Interior Health released a report last week saying drinking water systems should all be upgraded by 2025. They gave compelling reasons why upgrading is important for communities that issue water quality advisories, whether occasionally, often or, in the case of Windermere, continuously.
It’s helpful to see the data compiled in one place. And it’s great that Interior Health, tasked with our health and wellbeing, is concerned over the safety of our drinking water.
The problem is that it does nothing to actually solve the problem. Interior Health does not have vast pots of money to pour on these problems. While the officials can talk until they’re blue in the face about how communities need to bring the drinking water systems up to snuff, without money to back it, it’s just another report to stack on the desk.
Windermere is a good case study of water quality issues. Before the provincial standards changed, residents drank the water. Since the regulations changed, conversations with locals suggest that many still do drink it.
But rules are rules and, in order to protect the vulnerable populations in communities, they need to be followed. RDEK documents estimate the cost of buying an existing water company with better treatment methods, plus buying the building, plus all the hookups, could cost more than $9 million. That is a hefty price to pay for a small community.
A 2014 report by the Columbia Institute Centre For Civic Governance highlighted the problems of municipalities having to pick up the tab for services downloaded from federal and provincial governments. The list was extensive, from public transit to sewage infrastructure, policing and fire services to drinking water treatment. ‘Who’s Picking Up the Tab’, investigated the scale and scope of downloading onto local governments. Interestingly enough, this provincial study used Windermere as its example for drinking water regulations, stating “Changes to provincial drinking water regulations and standards are triggering millions of dollars in mandatory infrastructure construction and upgrades, with most of these costs borne by local governments […] A notable example is the Regional District of East Kootenay community of Windermere, which faces capital costs ranging from $5.7 million to $10.3 million to meet new requirements under provincial water regulations.”
‘Drinking Water in Interior Health’ report is great. But unless it comes with a bundle of cash, the report will sit high and dry while Windermere gets soaked in costly upgrades.