|Citation||Stanwick, R. 2014. Water, Water Everywhere: Drinking Water in Island Health - Medical Health Officers Report. Island Health|
|Abstract/Description or Keywords||Under Section 73 of the Public Health Act Medical Health Officers are expected to advise and report on
public health issues. The assurance of safe, reliable, affordable and accessible drinking water is a public
health challenge. This report presents the current status and oversight of drinking water in the region
served by Island Health.
This report makes recommendations for ensuring that all residents and visitors receiving drinking water
from our water supply systems can be assured of a quality of water that is equal to or better than that
enjoyed by other North American jurisdictions. Within the Island Health region, at least 898 water
supply systems are known to be operating, demonstrating the magnitude of the challenge for public
health. The report draws its structure from the chapters of Health Canada’s document “From Source to
Tap – The Multi-Barrier Approach to Safe Drinking Water.”4
Island Health has 24 water supply systems serving greater than 5000 persons every day. These systems
serve a total of 706,280 persons. About 150,000 people are supplied by 874 water supply systems
serving less than 5000 persons per day. The total number of people served exceeds the 765,000
population figure for Island Health as some people move between systems and are double counted. As
well, some tourist-based operating systems are dedicated to providing amenities for visitors to our
Island Health has developed tools for suppliers to ensure effective source protection by identifying
issues and establishing a Source Protection Plan for their water supply. While source protection
planning does vary widely across the Island, there are examples of excellent programming already
completed by some operators.
Seventy per cent of water supply systems depend on ground water (wells) for their drinking water, 15%
on surface water, 2.3% a combination of surface and well water and 12.6% are currently not captured in
our records. Over two-thirds of the systems serve less than 15 connections, 22.3% serve 15 to 300
connections and the remaining 6.5% consist of systems with over 300 connections, which serve the
majority of the population of Island Health. As the size of the population served grows, the proportion
of water supply systems drawing on surface water tends to increase.
Ten water supply systems using surface water as their source, all of which serve greater than 500
people, comply with the BC Surface Water Treatment Objectives.
As of March 2012, 33 large systems
using surface water were non-compliant with these provincial treatment objectives. These standards
are not applicable to the 33 large systems reliant on ground water.
Bacteriological monitoring is performed at a frequency based on the size of the population served by
the system. Only 29% of water supply systems met the objective of submitting 90% or more of their
required bacteriological samples. 17,812 water samples were taken from 2011 to 2012, of which 0.3%
were positive for Escherichia coli. The results of this testing program are publically available online at
Samples must reach the laboratory within 30 hours of collection. Since most Central and North Island
samples currently are only analyzed in Vancouver, this can pose a serious quality challenge for remote
and isolated locations. Chemical analysis is performed less frequently, with only 15% of water supply
systems performing routine chemical sampling.
Water supply systems currently operate under more than a dozen different governance models. These
oversight structures are regulated by various pieces of provincial legislation. Many of these governance
bodies also deliver community services beyond drinking water and it is but one of a number of
competing priorities for resourcing.
Operators of larger water supply systems (serving 500 persons or more, of which there are a total of 81
within Island Health) are required to receive training through the Environmental Operators Certification
Program. The development of a course that would ensure appropriate training for operators of smaller
water supply systems could serve to enhance water safety for even more consumers.
In 2008, the Ombudsman tasked Regional Health Authorities with reducing the number and duration of
Boil Water Notices issued for BC water supply systems. In response, Island Health by March 2012
worked to remediate 36 of the 57 systems on Boil Water Notices, which historically had been in place
for longer than 18 months. At the time of the release of this report, reflecting ongoing challenges, 40
water supply systems in our jurisdiction are on long-term Boil Water Notices.
Emergency Response Plans exist for half of the water supply systems, which is a marked improvement
from previous years.
Operating permits for water supply systems are a requirement under Section 8 of the Drinking Water
Protection Act and are issued by Drinking Water Officers. In 2012, our official statistics indicated that
53.5% of water supply systems had operating permits, 27.7% of which were granted with conditions. It
is assumed that most systems have, in fact, been granted operating permits, but have not had their
information entered into Island Health files.
A complaint process exists within Island Health where members of the public can express concerns.
Sixty-eight complaints have been received over the past four years, arising mainly from those customers
served by smaller water supply systems. Larger systems have their own complaint intakes and our
number is likely an undercount.
Within the plethora of challenges faced by many water supply systems, there are locale-specific drinking
water concerns including: saline intrusion, highly coloured water, blue-green algae,
ammonia/iron/manganese and other quantity issues.
The Drinking Water Protection Act defines a water supply system as other than serving a single-family
residence. The onus is on these property owners to provide safe water for themselves. While not within
the purview of the Act, concern about potential health risks for water supplies serving these singlefamily
residences is of importance to Island Health. Support exists through Island Health and other
organizations for managing these private water sources safely. The release of the provincial Living Water Smart Plan has generated new initiatives including rainwater
harvesting, Aquifer Storage and Recovery and Point of Entry/Point of Use equipment. Island Health has
responded to assess the safety of these innovations and provide sound oversight of their
This report includes 32 recommendations structured to move the drinking water industry, suppliers,
users and regulators forward as the Drinking Water Protection Act enters its second decade.
|Regional Watershed||Vancouver Island South, Vancouver Island North|
|Sub-watershed if known|