British Columbia

Auditor general has 'grave concern' about protection of drinking water in B.C.

British Columbia's auditor general says she has "grave concern" about the province's accountability measures to ensure safe drinking water for people living in B.C.

Ministry of Health, Public Health Office efforts to protect water systems have been limited, audit report says

An audit report says the province needs to provide better leadership on water protection and develop a strategic plan to ensure safe drinking water. (CBC)

British Columbia's auditor general says she has "grave concern" about the province's accountability measures to ensure safe drinking water.

Carol Bellringer says in an audit report that the Ministry of Health and the provincial health officer are not sufficiently protecting drinking water for the people in B.C.

"A single event that contaminates the drinking water system can cause serious health impacts for numerous people. It's estimated that for every reported case of illness, hundreds may go unreported."

Bellringer directs five of the report's eight recommendations at the Health Ministry, including providing better leadership on the water protection issue and developing a strategic plan to ensure safe drinking water.

She says contamination risks are intensified in B.C.'s small water systems, where government oversight has been limited. 

"One of the problems that we identified in this report that we found was that the Ministry of Health actually doesn't know how many systems are out of compliance," said Bellringer.

In response to the audit, the Ministry of Health says it accepts that a government-wide commitment to a drinking water strategy will increase protection.

The auditor general's office said there are approximately 4,800 known drinking water systems in the province. Ninety per cent of those are classified as small water systems, which serve fewer than 500 people in a 24-hour period.

The scope of the audit report does not include drinking water systems used by First Nations, whose systems fall under the jurisdiction of B.C.'s First Nations Health Authority.

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