Schools in Prince Rupert were equipped with filtered water fountains after high levels of lead were detected in 2016. (Black Press files)

B.C.’s rural water systems need work to be safe, auditor says

Last water-borne illness outbreak was in 2004

B.C.’s health ministry needs a strategy for drinking water protection, particularly in smaller communities, Auditor General Carol Bellringer says.

Water-borne illnesses and health effects are not common in B.C. or across North America, but the province needs better oversight due to the large number of small rural water systems. About 90 per cent of the 4,800 water systems in B.C. are small, and 480,000 people rely on them for drinking water.

The report notes that the health ministry has online resources for protection and testing, such as flushing of pipes using lead solder that were discovered to be below water quality guidelines at schools in Prince Rupert in 2016. Bellringer recommends better inspection and reporting of compliance.

The ministry accepted the recommendations, including a legislative review to pull together responsibilities scattered across government departments for watersheds that are the source for most systems.

RELATED: Semiahmoo First Nation gets safe drinking water

RELATED: Water treatment ends long-running boil-water order

Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry made similar recommendations in a survey released in June. Among its 32 recommendations, it called for a “consistent sampling and reporting protocol for lead in drinking water for schools to follow,” and provincial guidelines for bulk water haulers who supply some rural residents.

Regional health authorities are continuing efforts to identify water systems with chronic, long-term boil water notices, and check training of drinking water officers.


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