HOW SMALL DRINKING WATER SYSTEMS ARE REGULATED IN THE MARITIMES
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by Michelle Moore
A change to small drinking water systems (SDWS) regulations in Ontario this year has prompted WaterToday to look into how other provinces define and manage their own SDWS.
Each province differs as to which department oversees the many facets of drinking water quality and in how a SDWS is defined and managed. Some define SDWS by the number of people served daily, others by the quantity of water used daily. One component all four maritime provinces have in common is the procedure through which a boil water advisory (BWA) is lifted.
In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and in Prince Edward Island, a BWA is removed when the conditions that caused the BWA have ceased and when two samples indicate good water quality within twenty-four hours of each other.
Now, let us start with Nova Scotia. In Nova Scotia, small drinking water systems (SDWS) fall under the regulations for public drinking water supplies. Since October 1, 2000 owners of public drinking water supplies must register their water supply and are overseen by Nova Scotia Environment and Labour (NSEL).
Before the change in 2000 the Drinking Water Supply Program was operated by the Health Department and carried out by NSEL. At that time Health Inspectors did the sample testing, but in 1997 they began to have municipal utility operators do the testing which resulted in a significant decrease in boil water advisories (BWAs).
This new way of operating was adopted and extended to encompass not just municipal but all public drinking water supplies. Owners of drinking water supplies are responsible for monitoring drinking water quality and notifying NSEL of any problems, and take corrective action to make sure the water meets the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
Public drinking water supplies are defined as any source with at least 15 service connections or serving twenty-five people or more for sixty days per year or more. It can refer to such places as day cares, restaurants, campgrounds, nursing homes, and schools.
There are roughly 1600 registered public drinking water supplies in Nova Scotia. Nova Scotia Environment and Labour (NSEL) and their roughly sixty inspectors have the responsibility to oversee these water supplies and make sure that they adhere to the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
The owner must make all sample results available to NSEL. When test results indicate problems, they must notify NSEL, send them the results and take corrective measures. They must also put up signs to notify patrons. Once notified NSEL adds the BWA to its online database.
In January 2006, Prince Edward Island also saw a change to their regulations. Since then, all systems serving the public must be registered and must follow the Drinking Water and Wastewater Facility Operating Regulations which includes regular sampling.
Systems having between five and one-hundred-and-fifty connections are considered to be SDWS. Owners are responsible for monitoring water quality in accordance with the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality and are overseen by Communities, Land and Environment.
The owner of a water supply can place responsibility for operation, repair and maintenance in the hands of a certified operator. The water supply must have a facilities classification certificate, retain certified operators and maintain water quality monitoring programs just as a municipal water supplies is required to do.
Kim Devine, media representative for Communities Land and Environment said in a statement to this reporter, "our regulations require owners and operators to do the sampling and submit to government to ensure they are meeting water quality standards." Samples are tested by the provincial lab and so usually it is the government that advises the owner of a problem with water quality.
When it is determined that a BWA must be issued it is done by an environmental health officer at the Department of Health and Wellness. Any public or semi-public supply must notify consumers of the BWA. Special rules for schools, grocery stores and other places where food is present include shutting off water fountains and vegetable misters.
Unlike Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland BWAs in SDWS are not posted to an online directory but are made available verbally within 24 hours.
When asked if there were any challenges with monitoring or testing SDWS, Devine responded that "the process works well as the legislation clearly defines the rules."
In New Brunswick it is the Health Department and the Department of Environment and Local Government that oversee drinking water supplies in accordance with the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
Paul Bradley, communications for the Health Department on behalf of the Government of New Brunswick said "any establishments using a private water supply that has a license for a food premises issued by the Department of Health is required to have their water tested. These establishments can include, but are not limited to restaurants, daycares and nursing homes."
Any water supply whose needs are more than 50m3 a day must be registered with the Department of the Environment. Owners are responsible for any maintenance and upgrades necessary which must be designed by a professional engineer.
Bradley explained that "the Department of Environment and Local Government (DELG) is responsible for issuing approvals for the construction, modification, and operation of all drinking water systems using more than 50 cubic metres of water daily as stipulated in the Water Quality Regulation under the Clean Environment Act."
Monitoring, controlling and managing treatment processes must be designed by a professional engineer and approved by the Department of Environment in collaboration with the Department of Health.
The Department of Environment and Local Government regulates and protects systems from source to tap while The Department of Health determines when there is a risk to water quality and ensures a response to restore water quality standards. When a well is concerned the minister is advised by the Welling Drilling Advisory Board concerning all matters related including testing, repairs, and the renewal or reinstatement of registrations.
Sample results must be sent electronically to a drinking water data management system and owners must notify the Health Department of any irregularities. The Health Department may decide to issue a do not consume or BWA and post it on their website. If a BWA occurs the owner has the responsibility of informing consumers. The owner must also contact a Department of Environment Drinking Water Engineer within twenty-four hours.
Bradley added that "the Public Health Act allows a Medical Officer of Health to investigate and issue an order relating to any potential health hazard they are aware of relating to a water system, regardless of whether or not it is a regulated water system."
In Newfoundland and Labrador, it is the Department of Environment and Conservation that monitors chemical and physical water quality while the Department of Government Services otherwise known as Service Newfoundland monitors bacteria present in public drinking water systems.
Boil water advisories are posted in The Water Resources Portal as is real time water quality data. Different regulation exists to protect water quality including the Water Resources Act, Municipal Affairs Act and Municipalities Act. The Water Resources Act is responsible for protecting public water supplies.
Communications Director Erin Shea, on behalf of the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment said "the Water Resources Act applies to all public drinking water systems regardless of size." In Newfoundland and Labrador a SDWS is defined as one serving between 500 and 1500 people.
Shea explained that "communities in Newfoundland and Labrador are required to undertake daily chlorine residual monitoring in their distribution system. The Provincial Government, through the Department of Service NL, monitors bacteriological water quality and reports the results to the community."
Communities are encouraged to monitor certain facets of water quality themselves as it relates to operating water treatment plants or if there are certain known water issues in their region. Shea said, "if adverse bacteriological conditions exist, or any other reason that warrants the issuance of a boil water advisory, the community is required to notify residents of the advisory."
Environmental health officers (EHOs) and or environmental technicians with the Department of Government Services otherwise known as Service Newfoundland are responsible for collecting samples, and testing. EHOs are responsible for follow up where it is needed. The regional management of the Government Service Centre oversees this.
The Canadian Water Quality Index is used to report drinking water quality every quarter and is sent to all communities with a public drinking water supply.