In the opening comments to his most recent report, Manitoba Auditor General Tyson Shtykalo notes that the province “has not had any major outbreaks of waterborne diseases in the recent past.” Perhaps it has dodged a bullet.
The report, “Provincial Oversight of Drinking Water Safety”, found that the Department of Conservation and Climate’s licensing and monitoring processes did not minimize safety risks. Department data from January 2019 showed that roughly 40% of the 1,185 identified public and semi-public water systems in Manitoba did not have a current operating licence. Of the 40%, half were operating on expired licences, and the other half had never been licensed at all.
An estimated half of drinking water systems did not even have a certified operator, seemingly in defiance of provincial law. Section 8 of Manitoba’s The Drinking Water Safety Act requires that all operators of public or semi-public drinking water systems hold a valid government licence.
The audit raised questions about Manitoba’s Drinking Water Quality Standards Regulation (Man. Reg. 41/2007), which includes only 18 of the 72 potential contaminants found in Health Canada’s 2017 Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. Not all of the missing 54 would be relevant to Manitoba, but some have been detected in the province’s drinking water at levels that exceed federal guidelines, and the department did not have any documentation to support why they had been excluded from the Drinking Water Quality Standards Regulation.
Manitoba also fell short on monitoring and compliance assurance, though the audit did not find any significant concerns in public water systems serving large populations. Problems included poor follow-up of missing samples, reports and adverse test results, and a lack of enforcement, particularly in systems owned by the Department of Indigenous and Northern Relations.
Staffing is also a concern. Even though the number of licensed drinking water systems in Manitoba nearly doubled between fiscal years 2013-14 and 2018-19, the number of staff assigned to licensing and monitoring fell.
The government says it has made strides since the audit was conducted in 2018-19. The backlog in the approval of licences for public water systems has been eliminated, and it is 98% of the way there with semi-public systems. All schools on semi-public water systems are now licensed.