HALIFAX WATER MUST MAKE SOME IMPROVEMENTS: AUDITOR GENERAL
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By Michelle Moore
A report by the Auditor General recommends that Halifax Water track risks to drinking water in a centralized manner, do a better job of following up with Nova Scotia Environment, as well as develop a more comprehensive plan on long term upgrades to water infrastructure.
Halifax Water operates three large water supply plants and six smaller community supply plants providing water to 365 000 people throughout the Halifax Regional Municipality. Halifax Water says they use a multiple-barrier approach which includes the monitoring of source water, treatment, and distribution.
The audit analyzed the manner in which Halifax Water assesses risks to drinking water with a focus on infrastructure and compliance with drinking water safety regulations. Auditor General Evangeline Colman-Sadd released the report November 10 at an audit and finance standing committee meeting. She made nine recommendations, all of which management at Halifax Water have agreed to.
The report acknowledged that "Halifax Water performs regular water quality testing and takes timely action to address risks to drinking water safety." It also found that staff was knowledgable and properly certified.
It did however indicate that 3 employees who no longer worked there still had access to the computer system that tracks water sample results. Their access has since been removed. Halifax Water further specified that they will be establishing access levels so that only employees who need access to perform their duties will have it.
The report highlighted the importance of working with Nova Scotia Environment to ensure that no operational requirements are missed. It also noted that samples be verified to confirm that they are completed according to schedule. Halifax Water indicated that "in January 2017, with the discovery samples were missed, the tracking system was modified and the Compliance Inspectors are required to advise the Data Analysts if a sample was missed and the rationale."
A long term plan for water infrastructure improvements was found to be lacking; the audit made the recommendation that Halifax Water develop more sophisticated plans and a timeline for cost projections 30 years into the future. Halifax Water responded that they had a study that was "recently commissioned for a Regional Infrastructure Plan that involves developing a water infrastructure servicing strategy based on growth, asset renewal and compliance needs over a long planning horizon."
Halifax Water says they do water testing on a weekly basis taking samples from 51 locations around the municipality. The auditor report determined that after inspecting 30 scheduled water samples all had been completed. They did however find a small number of uncompleted samples, not part of those 30, that they believe to be isolated cases.
While the report states that Halifax Waterís approach is effective and thorough, it pinpoints the need for ďan organization-wide risk framework [that] would help prioritize programs and resources based on risk and help prevent any gaps from being overlooked." Halifax Water says they are currently developing such a framework.
Halifax Water has two divisions that collect water samples, Regulatory Services reports all water sample results to NS Environment but Water Services does not. Management at Halifax Water is of the position that samples taken for operational purposes need not be reported but the operating permits issued by NS Environment make no such distinction.
Media Relations Advisor for NS Environment Chrissy Matheson, says that "Halifax Water is required to notify NSE immediately of anything that falls outside the acceptable limits as outlined in their operational approval."
Matheson explained that "Halifax Water is also required to submit an annual report containing a summary of all monitoring required in its approval. This includes an explanation of any exceedances and what actions were taken to address those exceedances."
Matheson further specified however that "Nova Scotia Environment does not have any outstanding compliance issues