March 19, 2007

BC health officer issues first review of drinking water program

British Columbia's provincial health officer has called for improved water quality data collection and better monitoring of impacts from resource activities. "This report, the first since the Drinking Water Protection Act came into force, examines progress made under the act," said Dr Perry Kendall. "Under the act, public water supply system operators must now be certified, and drinking water officers hired by local health authorities are working with these operators to develop and implement drinking water protection plans."

The provincial health officer's report, Progress on the Action Plan for Safe Drinking Water in British Columbia, covers the progress in drinking water management in BC for the years 2003-04 and 2004-05. It notes several areas for improvement, including:

*the systematic collection of more comprehensive information related to drinking water across the province;

*the introduction of legislation requiring the licensing of groundwater extraction and restricting access to groundwater where aquifers are being overused; and

*the need to address the challenges of small water systems.

The report also makes recommendations in a number of areas to preserve the quality of drinking water, including:

*ensuring that all public water systems have appropriate and timely access to laboratory testing; and

*completion of system assessments by all drinking water suppliers and the development of plans for improvement where required.

Also needed, it adds, is a better understanding of the true cost of producing high quality drinking water, including infrastructure, training and certification, monitoring water quality, and remedying the effects of pollution.

This year, the BC government will be focusing on building a comprehensive reporting framework superior to any previous initiative. The province has also created 20 more new positions in health authorities to help strengthen its drinking water program.

The BC Centre for Disease Control and other approved laboratories test more than 75,000 water samples throughout the province each year. Some large water suppliers also conduct testing in their own facilities. In addition to checking for biological contamination, these tests now include mandatory testing for E coli in addition to total coliforms. Reporting of any positive results to water system operators and public health officials has been streamlined, and additional testing is undertaken for chemical contamination.

The report may be viewed on-line at www.health.gov.bc.ca/pho/pdf/WaterReport.pdf.

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