Thompson Rivers University
Thompson Rivers University

Regulations

A Brief History

In BC, drinking water safety legislation was introduced decades ago with a few lines about general responsibilities written into the Health Act and the Water Act. Since then, it has evolved into a complex set of government acts and regulations that have increased the responsibilities for water system operators and the regulators who oversee them.

These changes came about as a result of newly identified threats to drinking water safety and the failure of existing practices to prevent large outbreaks of waterborne disease.

Current legislation outlines in detail responsibilities in the areas of source protection, construction and plan approvals, treatment, monitoring, emergency response planning, and reporting requirements.

These regulations offer improved "source to tap" protection of water supplies and support a more aggressive response to threats to water quality.

Background

The Evolution of Water Regulations

Historically in BC, drinking water safety legislation was limited to a few sections in the Health Act.

For new systems, there were no specific requirements for filtration or disinfection and no monitoring standards or criteria. For existing systems that posed a hazard or potential hazard to public health, the minister had the option of ordering water purveyors to alter or improve the system “…in the manner and within the time the minister may direct."

The applicable sections of the Health Act evolved into a separate piece of legislation under the Health Act in 1992, called the Safe Drinking Water Regulation. It declared the need to maintain water that was safe to drink and, among other things, required:

  • water system construction approvals
  • disinfection of any surface water sources *
  • monitoring and recording of disinfection processes
  • public notification of existing or potential health hazards
  • written Emergency Response Plans for each system

(*Universal disinfection of surface water was later amended to allow exemptions by the Medical Health Officer, although few systems were able to meet the exemption criteria.)

This legislation represented a shift in focus as purveyors were now required to be active in the prevention of hazards, in addition to reacting to them when they occurred.

Water chlorination was a significant historical advancement in public health. However, as the Provincial Health Officer describes in his Annual Report of 2000. Despite these significant advancements, the threat from microbiological contamination of water had not been removed entirely. In fact, in the late 1980s and 1990s, a series of outbreaks of waterborne illnesses, particularly from the protozoa Giardia and Cryptosporidium around North America, along with the emergence of new toxin-producing strains of bacteria that can be carried in water, such as E. coli, has renewed the concern for the safety of our water supplies.

Further, in his 1999 review of BC’s drinking water sources, the Auditor General concluded, in part the Province is not adequately protecting drinking-water sources from human-related impacts, and this could have significant cost implications in the future.

We acknowledge that increased source protection will incur costs… However, neglecting our drinking-water sources can also be costly. These amounts are large enough to suggest that the issue of source protection is worthy of increased attention.

Source protection is not a way of completely avoiding these investments. It must be backed up by appropriate levels of treatment. It should be a way of improving the protection given to water consumers, rather than a reason to neglect source protection.

This report highlights the need for increased vigilance in source protection, and the need for filtration, as part of the overall process of “improving the protection given to water consumers…"

In other words, there needed to be better protection of water supplies— from the original source water right through to the consumer’s tap.

Water safety legislation has changed from simple, general requirements to the more complex and specific requirements of today in response to evolving threats to water safety.

Still, further changes are needed to prevent outbreaks from occurring— a stronger approach.

Current Regulations

Current legislation outlines in detail responsibilities in the areas of source protection, construction and plan approvals, treatment, monitoring, emergency response planning, and reporting requirements.

These regulations offer improved “source to tap” protection of water supplies and support a more aggressive response to threats to water quality.

The current legislation for drinking water safety in BC includes:

  • Drinking Water Protection Act (DWPA)
  • Drinking Water Protection Regulation (DWPR)
  • Water Act
  • Ground Water Protection Regulation (GWPR)

Drinking Water Protection Act and Regulation

While public notification, self-monitoring, and emergency response plans were introduced in the Safe Drinking Water Regulation (1992), the requirements of the DWPA and DWPR (May 2003) are even stronger. Some of the criteria include:

  • annual reporting requirements
  • qualification standards for operators
  • water testing by accredited labs
  • specific reporting requirements for suspected threats to water potability
  • floodproofing of wells
  • water source and system assessments
  • source and system protection requirements
  • drinking water protection plans

Electronic versions of BC legislation can be viewed online at the Queen’s Printers website. These are not the official versions but can be useful references.

Water Act and Ground Water Protection Regulation

The Water Act provides much of the control of water sources. It also outlines the requirements for the administration of water licences to such agencies as water user communities, municipalities, and improvement districts.

The Ground Water Protection Regulation (GWPA) specifies:

  • qualifications required for well drillers and pump installers
  • well standards and the necessary steps to protect ground water
  • requirements for the protection of existing wells
  • deactivation steps for wells no longer in use

Under the new drinking water legislation, the province has raised the standards for assessing water systems, certifying operators and suppliers, and monitoring and reporting on water quality.

In addition, the new legislation now includes the specific requirements of the Drinking Water Protection Act and Regulation as well as those of the GWPR.

Improved standards at all levels of water supply will ensure safe, reliable, and accessible drinking water for all British Columbians.