Charles Murray

Provincial ombudsman Charles Murray lashed out at the province in a new report over its water classification program. (CBC) (CBC)

A scientist who helped develop Maine's water protection program says New Brunswick should adopt a similar program.

On Friday, and for the first time, New Brunswick's environment minister gave an explanation as to why, he says, implementation of the 2002 Water Classification Regulation is being held up.

His explanation comes just days after New Brunswick's Ombudsman Charles Murray slammed the government for failing to adopt the 12-year-old regulation.

Earlier this week Murray said the 2002 Water Classification Regulation is effectively an empty vessel.

“It's the equivalent of having a smoke detector in your house without batteries,” he said.

The 2002 Water Classification Regulation was implemented to classify water systems to protect them for their intended uses, such as drinking, recreation and wildlife.

Environmental groups were tasked with testing the waters and submitting applications for classification. Nineteen did so, but Murray says a clause in the regulation allows ministers to have final discretion on any classification.

Across the border, however, Maine has been using the system for years.

Freshwater policy specialist David Courtemanch helped implement the system in Maine. He says having a classification for rivers, gives the public confidence in the safety of resource development projects.

“Everybody knows what the target goals are for a waterbody and can work toward those collectively,” he said. “Instead of creating these antagonistic types of debates that go on.”

He said the regulation would give direction to the agency about how to manage. 

Courtemanch says the classifications don't necessarily prevent resource development but instead ensure standards are met.

Legal hangups

On Friday, Environment Minister Danny Soucy gave the reason as to why no applications have been accepted.

“There are legal aspects to it that aren't working. And so we have to make sure that the legal side of it is done and done properly,” he said.

In 2008, the then-Liberal government passed an amendment to fix a legal issue with the regulation.

However no action has been taken since then. 

CBC News has requested more details around the nature of the legal holdup but as yet, has received no response.