Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Shrubsole, Dan

2nd Supervisor

White, Jerry



Waterborne disease outbreaks associated with drinking water systems occur in Canada and elsewhere. Previous research has shown that the small non-community drinking water system (SDWS) users are at increased risk of becoming ill compared to the community drinking water system users. Although public awareness surrounding access to safe drinking water has been increased considerably since the Walkerton tragedy in 2000, the provision of safe drinking water in Ontario’s SDWSs is relatively understudied. Furthermore, a key initiative to safeguard drinking water sources in Ontario, the planning for source water protection, does not include SDWSs.

Our research consists of three manuscripts addressing the following objectives: a) to examine contributing factors to adverse water quality incidents in SDWSs, b) to investigate risk awareness and perceptions of the SDWS owners in the provision of safe drinking water and protecting their water sources, c) to develop a sustainable operation model for Ontario’s SDWSs.

We use a mixed methods approach by analyzing quantitative and qualitative data in different phases of the research. The study region, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph, is situated in the heart of southern Ontario.

Our research investigates the relationship between operational characteristics of SDWSs and adverse water quality incidents and concludes that the presence of operator training, an upstream behavioural determinant, significantly reduces the incidence of adverse water quality incidents in SDWSs. The interviews with SDWS owners reveal the need for low-cost and easily accessible training opportunities, and financial support for some SDWS owners. Although the current literature on Ontario’s SDWSs is limited, the review of the current water management strategies in Canada and across the world provides fruitful results to create of a unique model for Ontario’s SDWSs using the Multiple-Barrier Approach framework. Our sustainable operation model consists of five main components: Commitment to providing safe drinking water; assessment of the system and source water; system operation and operator training; management of incidents and emergencies; and communication and raising awareness. Our model addresses the areas that need more attention for today, and in the future, such as protecting source water, financial stability, enhanced communication, and increased awareness.