Clean Water, Safe Water
Clean Water, Safe Water: The Case of Policy Adaptation and Organizational Response in Ontario

Author: IPAC, Ontario Public Service
Publication Date: 2014

The Case Study Series is a joint undertaking of the Ontario Public Service and the Institute of Public Administration of Canada to advance the development of policy learning and capacity within the OPS through the transfer of knowledge in significant policy experiences in the Province.

Abstract: In early May 2000, water contaminated with a disease-causing strain of E. Coli flowed through the municipal water system in Walkerton, Ontario for several days. Seven people died as a result, and some 2,300 residents ' about half the population of the town ' became ill. Many suffered permanent health damage.

This case study looks at how the Walkerton tragedy, often described as Canada's worst E. Coli-related outbreak, spurred a complete re-thinking of government's duties around providing citizens with safe drinking water. It touches specifically on the policy role of the Ontario Ministry of the Environment, and the organizational and strategic shifts that followed the tragedy. This case deals with issues of policy choice in response to emergency situations that have implications for the entire population. It also deals with how organizations realign themselves to not simply respond but also to fundamentally alter their approach to their mandate.