Grey-Bruce Public Health launches new local solution to ensure equitable access to well-water testing program

In a media release, Grey Bruce Public Health (GBPH) has announced that it will launch today, Wednesday, October 4th (2023), “… a locally developed service that will ensure all Grey-Bruce residents have equitable, timely access to Public Health Ontario’s free well water testing program.”

In February (2023), Saugeen Shores Mayor Luke Charbonneau, an advocate for water testing, wrote a letter to the Provincial Officer of Public Health, Dr. Patel, and finally received a response in April saying that the province would not reinstate the routes where water samples were picked up prior to Covid.

Following the COVID-19 emergency, GBPH began discussions with PHO in hopes of not only re-establishing permanent locations but increasing the number of locations to ensure all Grey-Bruce residents had equitable access to the program. However, PHO informed GBPH that it did not intend to increase the number of locations and was considering eliminating most local drop-off sites.

In May, Mayor Charbonneau said that, “The fact that we cannot get the restoration of a service that existed forever … (means) that people from Saugeen Shores, Arran-Elderslie, Kincardine and Saugeen First Nation cannot get their water tested.”

He remain optimistic however, citing at that time that “… there is reason for optimism.  Grey Bruce Public Health has seized the issue working with Public Health Ontario and they have committed to establishing new pick-up routes managed by Grey Bruce Public Health and, from the preliminary list of pick-up sites, Saugeen Shores will get one. It’s still in discussion but I feel very confident the problem will be solved because of the great work by Grey Bruce Public Health and not Public Health of Ontario.”

It would appear that the Mayor’s optimism has paid off as the water-testing service has been re-established in Grey-Bruce by Grey Bruce Public Health in collaboration with municipalities and Public Health Ontario.

The new service will allow residents on private drinking water systems to pick up sample collection kits and drop off water samples at 14 locations throughout Grey-Bruce.

GBPH has long collaborated with PHO and other partners to make the well-water testing program available free of charge to Grey-Bruce residents. Key to the program’s success in Grey-Bruce – due to the region’s size and rural nature – is having multiple locations where people can drop off water samples.

The locations will form two routes, which will be serviced one day a week by a local courier contracted by GBPH. A Bruce County route will be serviced on Wednesdays, while a Grey County route will be serviced on Fridays.

A Public Health Ontario (PHO) courier will continue to pick up samples at both GBPH in Owen Sound and in Walkerton five days a week. On Wednesdays and Fridays, the PHO courier will also take samples collected by the local courier to a London lab for testing.

Public Health Ontario’s (PHO) private drinking water testing program analyzes samples for the presence of bacterial indicators of contamination, specifically E. coli and total coliforms. Residents receive test results directly from Public Health Ontario.

“This made-in-Grey-Bruce service will put PHO’s complimentary well-water testing program within a 30-minute drive of nearly every household in Grey-Bruce,” says Grey-Bruce Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Ian Arra. “We would like to sincerely thank each of our partners, particularly local municipalities, for assisting us in creating a fair and accessible service that adheres to our collective mission of protecting the health of everyone in Grey-Bruce.”

GBPH’s goal, when developing the new service, was to maintain water sample drop-off locations in existing communities, while re-establishing locations in place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, which includes restoring a site in Saugeen Shores. With the local service, there are now drop-off locations in more Grey-Bruce communities than were in place before the pandemic. New locations have also been established in Chatsworth, The Blue Mountains, Southgate, and Chesley.

Details of the new routes – including a list of drop-off locations and information on when residents must collect and drop off samples to ensure they adhere to required timelines for testing – are available at the following link: Well Water Testing Service

GBPH recommends “… households that draw their drinking water from wells or other private systems test their water at least three times a year, after any work is done to their system, and after significant weather events, such as a fast thaw or severe rain.”