Skip to main content

Emma Lui, a Council of Canadians water campaigner who wrote a report on water advisories in B.C., said natural resource development, including pipelines and fracking projects, are putting the province’s clean water supplies at risk.

NadezhdaShour/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Clean, safe drinking water is still out of reach for many British Columbians, especially in First Nations communities, according to a new report from the Council of Canadians.

The report found there were 579 drinking-water advisories in B.C. as of January, more than any other province or territory. A total of 1,838 advisories were recorded across the country.

The advisories include orders to boil water and to avoid consuming or using tap water, as well as precautionary advisories about water quality. Some apply to whole communities, while others apply to individual buildings such as schools and restaurants. In B.C., 79 per cent of the advisories were from the Interior. There were 35 advisories in First Nations communities. Only Ontario reported more advisories from First Nations communities than B.C.

Story continues below advertisement

Emma Lui, a Council of Canadians water campaigner who wrote the report, said natural resource development, including pipelines and fracking projects, are putting the province's clean water supplies at risk.

"B.C. really needs to be cautious about current threats to drinking water," she said. The report cited the Northern Gateway and Kinder Morgan pipeline projects, as well as the Site C dam, as sources of concern for future water safety in B.C.

Ms. Lui is calling for a national water policy that would enforce drinking water standards across the country.

But others say poor infrastructure is responsible for B.C.'s drinking water problem, not natural resource development.

Dr. Madjid Mohseni, a University of British Columbia engineer who works on clean water projects with rural and First Nations communities, said a number of factors explain why B.C. has more drinking water advisories than other provinces, including its large number of small water systems.

He said many of B.C.'s 3,000 water systems are in small, remote communities with limited resources.

"For them to finance a water treatment system that is going to provide consistent, good quality water, it is going to cost a lot of money per household," he said. "Some really simply don't have the capacity to make any progress."

Story continues below advertisement

According to listings on the province's regional health authority websites, there were 505 boil-water advisories in B.C. as of Monday. That's a very slight decline from the 530 reported in 2008, the last time a comprehensive survey of Canada's drinking water advisories was published. Of those, 69 have been in place in since before 2000.

Dr. Mohseni said the province's small island communities have an especially hard time paying for water treatment, because of the additional cost of shipping supplies.

As an example, the tiny community of Dodge Cove, located on Digby Island near Prince Rupert, has been under a boil-water advisory since 1988. In 2011, the community voted against installing a new clean water system because of unaffordable user fees.

Dr. Mohseni added that many B.C. communities, particularly First Nations communities, have traditionally taken their water from rivers and lakes rather than groundwater reservoirs. That's especially true in places where water comes from the mountains, as mountain waterways are often assumed to be pristine. But without treatment, Dr. Mohseni said, surface water has a higher chance of being contaminated than groundwater.

Linda Pillsworth, acting executive director for community health and wellness services with the First Nations Health Authority, said the province has made progress in improving drinking water in First Nations communities. She said that includes investments in new treatment systems, operator training, and more frequent water quality monitoring.

"Based on the sheer number of water systems that we have … there of course needs to be additional funding," she said. "I don't think we're there yet, but I think there have been significant improvements."

Story continues below advertisement

But Dr. Mohseni said what's really needed are policy changes around drinking water treatment. He said health guidelines need to be the same across the province, but it's unfair to demand the same level of monitoring in tiny communities as in large cities.

"You cannot apply the same standard to a small community," he said. "If the issues can be resolved with a Toyota Camry, you don't need a Cadillac."

The B.C. Ministry of Health did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter