‘Lackadaisical,’ ‘Inefficient’ Vaughan water services uncovered by city auditor

The City of Vaughan’s auditor is calling out staff for what he calls a “lackadaisical approach” to managing the city’s water supply.

Although there is no suggestion that drinking water in Vaughan is unsafe, some of auditor Kevin Shapiro’s recommendations are marked urgent — meaning “inaction could have a negative impact on the health and safety of the residents and businesses of Vaughan,” the report states.

“We have a problem here,” Coun. Tony Carella, who sits on the city’s finance and audit committee, told CBC Toronto.

“We have gotten what I assume is a fairly clear picture. I mean, he doesn’t seem to be mincing words and I know stuff’s got to be done to put this right. And very quickly.”

Shapiro makes 32 recommendations, most of them related to questionable practices by staff. And he notes that environmental services — the city department responsible for water, waste water and storm water systems — needs much better oversight.

“The audit of Water, Wastewater and Stormwater Operations identified numerous issues that have impacted Environmental Services’ ability to deliver on several of their objectives, while increasing the risk of litigation and reputational damage to the City,” Shapiro writes.

“This conclusion is based on several factors, including … a lackadaisical approach to policy and procedural development and legislative compliance.”

In once instance, the auditor found that a contract to inspect the city’s fire hydrants was allowed to lapse, despite a provincial requirement that all hydrants be inspected after every use, and at least once a year.

As a result, none of Vaughan’s 8,500 fire hydrants was inspected in 2018. No one informed the Vaughan Fire Service.

In another, the auditor found that only one of 18 recommendations in a consultant’s report aimed at helping the city protect its supply of drinking water has been implemented. The study was carried out two years ago.

The auditor also bemoans what he calls “the inability of Environmental Services staff to appropriately estimate the costs of goods and services.”

He points out that nine vehicles bought by the department in 2016 had to be parked because they didn’t have the proper equipment installed. Two years later, they still hadn’t been put into service.

The report, completed in April,  will be brought up at a meeting today of Vaughan council’s finance, administration and audit committee.

Carella said the report could be a wake-up call for city councillors.

“If safety issues are being identified to me that’s a good news story,” he said. “We’re getting a handle on things that potentially down the road could have serious consequences.

“The fact is that over the last three years or four, all of the reports that we get annually about the quality of the drinking water says it’s fine, 100 percent.”

But he said he’s confident that problems will be solved quickly, now that they’ve been brought to the attention of council.

“There are some deficiencies that have been identified and which will be addressed in short order,” he said.

“They’re talking specifically about attitudes, performance, how people are doing their jobs and those require in some cases disciplinary action.”

Although some fixes appear to have been implemented already, it’s unclear which steps still need to be taken to ensure the water supply services are up to snuff.

Vaughan Mayor Marizio Bevilacqua wouldn’t speak directly to CBC Toronto. But city staff sent an emailed statement.

Water ‘was and is safe’

“The City of Vaughan is committed to providing safe drinking water, effective wastewater collection and efficient stormwater management for a healthy and sustainable community,” the statement reads.

“Again, the City of Vaughan’s drinking water was and is safe,” the email continues.

“While the City has passed provincial evaluations without incident, the internal audit report identified some opportunities for further process improvements, such as leveraging advances in technology, enhancing project management and contract administration.

“City of Vaughan management have developed action plans to continue to mitigate risks and address the recommendations in the audit report.”

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