By J.W. Schnarr
Proposed changes to how drinking water is regulated has some wondering if the provincial government has a plan to force privatization on municipalities when it comes to water services.
“This smells to me like a push toward privatization to have the big companies run all the water plants and have their own certified people within,” said Jack Dunsmore, the M.D. of Taber’s director of planning and infrastructure. Dunsmore spoke on the subject during a staff update from John Sinclair, director of public works.
Sinclair said the goal of the proposed changes involve instituting a system more like one run in the United Kingdom, and that, in the future, the province would eliminate all approvals for water treatment operations and replace them with a new program. Water providers would have new regulations and fall in to different categories based on size.
Sinclair expressed surprise there was so little turnaround for any kind of response to the proposed changes from municipalities in the province, but said it seemed as though the response opportunity would have no real effect.
“In all honesty, I think this is a done deal,” he said. “It’s just smoke and mirrors. We know it’s going to come.”
He went on to say while those changes haven’t been announced, the proposed changes could prove costly.
“It’s going to cost municipalities a heck of a lot of money coming down the pike, I can tell you that.”
“I can see four, possibly five new operational plans that are going to have to come into effect because of this program,” he said.
“They keep telling us they have the templates and everything available for people, but why can’t we see them?”
“There’s a lot of information they are throwing at us, but they are not showing us examples or the completed versions so that people can look at them.”
One proposal Sinclair said could be particularly troublesome for the municipality could be the use of what he described as “hygiene cards,” a way for the province to keep people with some health issues away from water supplies.
“They want to push a hygiene card,” he said. “What that means is that they want to prove operators are not carrying any waterborne diseases or anything like that. Anyone who wants to come into that water treatment plant, if they do not have a hygiene card, they are not allowed in the facility. So if you want an electrician, or service techs, or anything like that, you have to have this hygiene card.”
Sinclair said security is another big issue being pushed, with cameras and fencing needed to meet a standard level.
“Sounds like are trying to push us to the Epcors of the world,” said Ben Elfring. He asked about whether the U.K. has third party water providers or whether municipalities control water plants. Sinclair didn’t have an answer.
“All I can tell you is when I did the drinking water safety plan, these looked like government officials, but they work for the corporations that run the facilities.”
“The question is how many organizations have the institutional capacity to continue to meet these types of regulations?” Municipal Administrator Derrick Krizsan asked. “That’s why it’s incredibly important that we continue these regional partnerships, to continue to have the individuals in place who are trained, and capable to operate our own plants independently of these third-party agreements.”
Sinclair said increases to raw water testing could amount to thousands of additional dollars needed, and there has been no indication of how often those tests will need to be taken. Additionally, he said the government will insist on protection of local watersheds.
“What they are telling us in this document, is any stakeholder from here right into the B.C. border is responsible for protection of the watersheds.”
Sinclair went on to say the proposals leave big holes as to how the government will deal with irrigation districts and the agriculture industry.
“How are you going to deal with agriculture?” he asked. “As a stakeholder, any contamination, you are going to be responsible that these water supply sources (are not harmed).
Reeve Brian Brewin urged caution, as there were many unknown factors involved still.
“There may be some fear of the unknown here,” said Brewin.
“They use two words: enforcement, and mandatory,” said Sinclair. “Those are two scary words.”