Legislation introduced to protect drinking water 

In the wake of the fatal Walkerton, Ontario, ecoli outbreak and number of provincial "boil water" advisories, the provincial government has introduced new legislation and standards to protect B.C.’s drinking water.

"Safe, clean drinking water is a priority for this government and for British Columbians," said Environment, Lands and parks Minister Ian Waddell. "We are committed to putting stronger laws and standards in place to protect drinking water throughout the province."

The legislation, known as Bill 20, was tabled in the Legislature on April 5, and is backed by $11 million in new funding. It establishes lead authorities on drinking water in B.C., which is one of the elements that was recommended by the public and stakeholders in recent consultations.

Whether the bill becomes law before the current session of the legislature is dissolved and an election is called remains to be seen. If the bill is not passed before an election is called it will die on the order paper. The opposition Liberal party has limited debate of the 23 bills on the order paper this session in order to speed up the election call, but has also vowed to review all legislation passed during this session.

Under the proposed bill, a provincial drinking water co-ordinator from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Environment will provide central direction on drinking water issues, support B.C. regional drinking water programs, and issue an annual report on the implementation of the new measures.

Aside from creating more paperwork, the new legislation will enhance protection of drinking water from the source to the tap.

The drinking water protection act will, among other things:

• Improve regulation of water supply systems and protection of water resources;

• Affirm the public’s right to know about their drinking water by requiring that assessments, water monitoring, and emergency response plans are available;

• Enable individuals to request investigations if they believe there is a threat to drinking water;

• Add requirements for monitoring and reporting drinking water quality;

• Establish province-wide and system-specific water quality standards;

• Ensure that local governments, medical health officers and drinking water officers are consulted on statutory decisions affecting drinking water quality, such as waste management, mining or range permits, or logging plans;

• Enable the development of community-based drinking water protection plans as ordered by the minister of health, or as requested by a drinking water officer or local government;

• Strengthen inspection and order powers, and establish new prohibitions and penalties against contaminating drinking water or tampering with a water system.

Health Minister Corky Evans also said province will introduce new treatment and water quality standards that are among the strongest of any jurisdiction in Canada.

"British Columbians have told us they want comprehensive legislation that protects the drinking water used by their communities," said Waddell. "This legislation is one of the strongest in Canada to provide safe drinking water and to prevent a Walkerton-type tragedy here."

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