The Manitoba government has welcomed the Office of the Auditor General’s (OAG) report on Drinking Water Safety Oversight. The government has also advanced many of the Auditor General’s recommendations and committed $3-million for funding water testing and remediation, according to an announcement by Conservation and Climate Minister Sarah Guillemard.
“The safety of Manitobans’ drinking water is paramount and our water has never been safer,” said Guillemard. “We thank the Office of the Auditor General for the recommendations and will work to implement them.”
“Our province continually aligns to health-based national guidelines and continues to improve oversight processes and procedures so that water system suppliers meet the requirements of their operating licences, which ensure continued safety of drinking water across Manitoba,” added Guillemard.
The province has issued more than 1,400 operating licences to water suppliers, with strict terms and conditions designed to ensure the safety of Manitoba’s drinking water supply. Staff in the Office of Drinking Water review more than 100,000 water quality tests every year to evaluate compliance with provincial standards and national guidelines. Where necessary, regional medical officers can quickly issue water advisories to ensure the public is aware and can take the appropriate precautions.
“The work of monitoring and testing of the water supply is ongoing and requires the careful oversight of the Office of Drinking Water at every level,” said Dr. Brent Roussin, chief provincial public health officer. “Public Health will continue to work with Manitoba Conservation and Climate to ensure the supply of drinking water for Manitobans remains safe.”
As part of a whole-of-government response, the province continues to take significant action to address all of the recommendations of the auditor general’s report. A government steering committee has been established to co-ordinate this work with leadership from the departments of: Conservation and Climate, Health, Seniors and Active Living, Education, Families, Indigenous and Northern Relations, Municipal Relations, Central Services, and Economic Development and Training.
According to an announcement from the Manitoba government, the province has made many improvements since the audit investigation was conducted in 2018-19. A backlog of licence approvals for public water systems (15 or more connections) identified in the OAG report has been fully addressed and work to address licence approvals for semi-public systems (less than 15 connections) is 98 per cent complete.
At the time of the audit, 80 per cent of identified water systems in Manitoba had operating licences and about 94 per cent of schools on semi-public water systems had operating licences. Currently, 96 per cent of identified water systems in the province have operating licences and all of the schools on semi-public water systems have operating licences.
In accordance with Health Canada guidelines, the province has also approved a program that will fully fund water testing at taps at child-care centres in Manitoba by March 31, 2021. This will help determine whether there are risks associated with water consumption at these facilities and will guide future decisions on possible changes to filtered fountains or touchless faucets, which would also assist in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
In addition to funding the tap water testing, the province will provide grants to schools and child-care centres for lead mitigation and remediation, for the development of additional hand-washing education toolkits, and for continued improvements to the collection and sharing of information on water quality. In total, $3-million in funding is being invested to address recommendations.