A Manitoba audit has found that 20% of known water systems in the province do not have an operating licence and nearly half do not have an appropriately certified operator.
Criticism of the Manitoba Department of Conservation and Climate’s handling of drinking water standards comes from Auditor General Tyson Shtykal, who released his report on Provincial Oversight of Drinking Water Safety last week.
Shtykal warns that the process for licensing and monitoring the province’s drinking water systems simply does not address safety risks adequately and that the overseeing department suffers from weak strategic planning and performance measurement.
“While Manitoba has not had any major outbreaks of waterborne diseases recently, the Department needs to remain vigilant and do more to minimize the risk of problems in the future,” Shtykal said in a statement on the new report.
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For instance, the auditor’s report found no explanation for why Manitoba’s Drinking Water Quality Standards Regulation has adopted just 18 of the 72 health-based parameters, such as potential contaminants, included in Health Canada’s 2017 Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
Of the one in five Manitoba water systems that do not possess an operating licence, or has one that has expired, most are small, yet some provide drinking water to schools. The licence outlines what a system operator must do to meet regulatory requirements, including minimum water quality standards and testing frequency. The report notes that most of these unlicensed systems were in fact testing drinking water, just not at the expected frequency, wrote Shtykal.
The auditor’s report found that in a sample of 30 water systems, nine did not have a certified operator (two public, which means 15 or more service connections, and seven semi-public), and another three (two public and one semi-public) did not have an operator certified to the level of the water system. Shtykal noted that the Department of Conservation and Climate has not classified a large number of water systems, many of which are small semi-public water systems licensed within the last few years.
“This is problematic as the system classification drives the operator certification requirements for a water system,” wrote Shtykal.
The report also examines a significant gap in funding and staffing. Between 2013 and 2019, expenses for the Office of Drinking Water increased just 4%, while over the same five-year period the number of licensed water systems increased 53% and the number of drinking water officers decreased 8% (from 13 to 12).
In response to the issues found in the report, the Manitoba Department of Conservation and Climate wrote that, “successful implementation of the recommendations in the report will require a whole-of-government approach.”
Department ials added that they have taken the initiative to develop an ADM Committee on Drinking Water.
The audit covered the period between April 1, 2016 and March 31, 2018.