If you talk to anyone in the Water industry in Ontario about the Walkerton tragedy they will be able to tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing the moment they first heard about it. 

For Water professionals Walkerton was like 9/11 or the assassination of John F. Kennedy. 

When the tragedy happened in May 2000 I was in school studying for my MBA and I actually first heard about it in one of my classes. 

I remember my professor brought it up and we discussed it at length in one of his lectures. 

This was over 16 years ago and I remember it like it was yesterday. 

Seven people died and thousands were sickened, many of whom will have digestive problems for the rest of their lives, from E. coli bacteria contamination in their drinking water. 

Walkerton residents get their drinking water from deep underground. 

Unfortunately groundwater is susceptible to contamination from surface sources, and in the case of Walkerton in May of 2000 local farmers just happened to spread fertilizer on their fields right before being hit with one of the most severe rainstorms in a decade. 

This coupled with a perfect storm of water hydrology and human incompetence caused the Walkerton disaster. 

Without getting into specifics about the tragedy, because this could be an article in itself, let’s just focus on the fact that E. coli bacteria got into the water main pipes. 

Once the contamination was discovered, the contaminated water pipes were immediately decommissioned and thoroughly cleaned and disinfected. 

However after many super-chlorinations (disinfecting with high concentration chlorinated water) the E. coli bacteria was still alive in the pipe. 

The sad truth is that the E. coli will always be in that pipe because that pipe is old iron water main that has corroded and is filled with corrosion by-products that line the inner wall like cholesterol in your arteries. 

This phenomenon, known as tuberculation, is the reason why the E. coli in the pipe can never be completely eradicated. 

The bacteria simply have too many places to hide. 

So all of the contaminated iron water main had to be abandoned and brand new water pipe had to be installed. 

Although at the time Vinyl pipe was not an approved water main material in Walkerton, the Town decided to go with it anyway because it was available locally and could be installed super-fast. 

However soon after the newly installed Vinyl water main was commissioned the Town realized many of the other benefits of Vinyl pipe such as its corrosion-resistance, flexibility, strength and superior smoothness. 

Today the water main of choice for Walkerton is Vinyl pipe. 

The fact of the matter is that this tragedy would have occurred regardless of which water main pipe was in the ground. 

Once E. coli gets into any water main, it doesn’t get out unless you kill it. 

And you have to kill all of it. 

If the contaminated pipe in Walkerton had been Vinyl, it would not have prevented this tragedy. 

However the superior smoothness of Vinyl pipe would have made it easy to clean and disinfect and at the very least would have been clean enough to be put back into service, as opposed to having to install a brand new water main. 

Residents would have only had to wait a few days for the Vinyl pipe to be recommissioned compared to a few weeks waiting for a new water main to be constructed. 

It’s too bad Walkerton didn’t have this information before May of 2000. 

I guess hindsight is always 20/20.