This letter is written in response to the editorial from Jan. 8, “IHA Soaks Water Users”. The medical health officers employed by Interior Health are responsible for ensuring the safety of drinking water within the IH region, including communities in the North Okanagan. As such, it is important to address the inaccuracies of the editorial and to explain IH’s role and the expectations for drinking water treatment.
Several North Okanagan water systems are to be commended for making significant steps in catching up to other large water suppliers in the province. Some systems in the region have steadily invested and upgraded their infrastructures over the years to meet Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines (CDWQG) and avoided what might appear to be large-step increases in water rates. These guidelines have been available since 1968 and have provided guidance to B.C. water system operators and governance bodies throughout this time in their planning activities. However, there remains an inconsistency between water operators, resulting in a health risk to users and visitors of these systems.
The editorial stated that “utilities are being forced into costly upgrades by the Interior Health Authority”, which implies Interior Health is arbitrarily expecting North Okanagan water suppliers to improve their infrastructure. This simply isn’t the case. It’s important for the public to know that all water suppliers in the province are expected to meet the requirements of the provincial Drinking Water Protection Act. This legislation also directs medical health officers in ensuring water suppliers meet the expectations of the act. Since the legislation was adopted in 2001, operators have been encouraged and expected to plan for and implement treatment improvements that will ensure consistency of the quality of drinking water supplied to the public. Those systems that have not met these requirements are still expected to do so, which includes some water operators in the North Okanagan.
The editorial also states “…local utilities will have no choice but to pass costs on to residents if the IHA gets its way.” Again, this is about water suppliers meeting a provincial standard. IH is accountable for ensuring the Drinking Water Protection Act is followed from a regulatory perspective.
We also actively support local governments in successfully accessing resources to assist in infrastructure improvements, recognizing the cost is passed on to water users. The past five years have seen the approval of more than 1,800 construction permits in our region for water systems valued near $500 million.
Contrary to what was stated in the editorial, the Interior has a notable history of waterborne outbreaks associated with systems with insufficient treatment and it is time to rectify this. As reported by the provincial health officer, currently only about three-quarters of B.C. residents have access to water that meets the CDWQG.
Other provinces have better records for compliance with the guidelines. Residents of the region expect that the water coming out of their taps is safe and reliable, and that the minimum expectations are achieved.
It is the role of staff of Interior Health to ensure this is the case and to support water systems in meeting these minimum expectations.
Dr. Paul Hasselback
Dr. Andrew Larder
Dr. Robert Parker
Dr. Peter Barss
Medical Health Officers
Interior Health Health