VANCOUVER- An independent review panel assigned with the task of reviewing a proposed Drinking Water Protection Act released a report yesterday calling for tough legislation to ensure the protection of safe drinking water throughout the province.
According to the Vancouver Sun, the report highlighted several key recommendations aimed at strengthening drinking water protection in BC. Besides recommending that the BC government introduce the Drinking Water Protection Act during the spring 2002 legislative session, the panel also suggested the inclusion of several amendments to strengthen the act. Proposed amendments reportedly include provisions for:
- the appointment of water protection officers with investigative authority;
- the creation of a drinking water protection agency headed by the Minister of Health Planning;
- identification of the most hazardous water supply systems in the province supplemented by plans detailing how the systems will be dealt with;
- a comprehensive infrastructure funding program to support water system upgrades throughout the province; and
- the introduction of a water protection surcharge that would include user fees to support water protection efforts.
The Vancouver Sun reports that the panel decided to toughen the proposed act when they became ""increasingly aware of the risks to drinking water sources and systems in BC."" Among the most significant risks are the fact that BC reportedly has the highest rate of waterborne disease outbreaks in Canada as well as the second-oldest water supply system in Canada. According to the Vancouver Sun, there are currently 3,500 water supply systems in BC with 240 on permanent boil-water advisories due to contamination threats. The average system age is 37 years old.
Panelist Robert Hobson, a Kelowna city councillor and environment chairman for the Union of BC Municipalities, told the Vancouver Sun that it would cost each household in BC approximately $1 per year to fund the recommended drinking water protection agency but noted that more significant tax increases may be necessary in order to support the cost of water system upgrades throughout the province. Hobson noted that the such costs should be shared by industries such as forestry, agriculture and mining, all of which have significant impacts on water quantity and quality throughout the province.
Panel chairman David Marshall, executive director of the Fraser Basin Council, asserted that BC could apply many of the recommendations of the Walkerton inquiry, including those supporting the creation of a water quality monitoring and enforcement system, operator training and certification programs, clear systems of accountability and immediate public notification of health threats.
Source: The Vancouver Sun