REPORT ON PROTECTION OF DRINKING WATER: British Columbians are not adequately being informed of the ongoing risks associated with the province’s drinking water, according to Carol Bellringer, B.C.’s auditor general (July 2019)
Note to Reader:
In July 2019, Auditor General Carol Bellringer released a report entitled The Protection of Drinking Water: An Independent Audit. It found along with not notifying the public of potential risks, the Ministry of Health and the provincial health officer (PHO) are not sufficiently protecting drinking water for all British Columbians.
The Auditor General’s report tells a classic story of how a government initiative, launched with the best of intentions, lost momentum over the years as the sense of urgency faded and other priorities took over.
The auditor general’s office said there are approximately 4,800 known drinking water systems in the province. Ninety per cent of those are classified as small water systems, which serve fewer than 500 people in a 24-hour period.
B.C. government not sufficiently protecting province’s drinking water, auditor general says
British Columbians are not adequately being informed of the ongoing risks associated with the province’s drinking water, said B.C.’s Auditor General, Carol Bellringer, when she released a report entitled The Protection of Drinking Water: An Independent Audit. It found along with not notifying the public of potential risks, the Ministry of Health and the provincial health officer (PHO) are not sufficiently protecting drinking water for all British Columbians.
“We undertook this audit because of the considerable importance of safe drinking water and because the risks to drinking water are increasing,” Bellringer said.
“Thankfully, B.C. has not had a known outbreak of water-borne illness since 2004, but just a single event that contaminates a drinking water system can cause serious health impacts for numerous people. It’s estimated that for every reported case of illness, hundreds may go unreported.”
She faulted the health ministry and the provincial health officer for failing to keep up with legislated mandates to provide leadership and oversight on protection of drinking water.
“As a result, most co-ordinating bodies have disbanded, there is no strategic plan to guide the direction of drinking-water protection, and efforts to protect small water systems have been limited,” the report said.
Bellringer directs five of the report’s eight recommendations at the Health Ministry, including providing better leadership on the water protection issue and developing a strategic plan to ensure safe drinking water.
B.C. more lucky than strategic protecting drinking water
“When hundreds were sickened and seven died from contaminated water in Walkerton, Ont. almost 20 years ago, the B.C. NDP government took action to protect drinking water supplies in this province,” wrote Vaughan Palmer in his Vancouver Sun column on the auditor general’s report.
“Happily since then, there has been only one documented outbreak of drinking water contamination in B.C. A half dozen residents of Hagensborg were sickened from drinking water contaminated with campylobacteriosis in 2004.
“But sheer luck may be a factor in the absence of any serious outbreaks in the ensuing 15 years, judging from a report this week by auditor general Carol Bellringer.”
Water Stewardship and a Changing Climate
“When it comes to watersheds, the province and governmental agencies are failing to fulfill their responsibilities,” Green Party MLA Sonia Furstenau said.
“In an era of climate change, protecting water becomes even more important. A separate risk assessment report published last week found that B.C. is at high risk of both seasonal and long-term water shortages, with potentially catastrophic impacts.
“At the bare minimum the government must make source protection of drinking watersheds an urgent priority.”
To Learn More:
Download a copy of The Protection of Drinking Water: An Independent Audit.
Download a copy of Vaughan Palmer’s column titled Auditor suggests B.C. more lucky than strategic protecting drinking water