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B.C. should be prepared to swallow water cost increase: health officer

May 16 2012

If people were willing to pour money into municipal water infrastructure as readily as they are to spend it on bottled water, we could be assured the safe drinking water we need for years to come, says B.C. health officer Dr. Perry Kendall.

Kendall and deputy officer Dr. Eric Young released a 2011 progress report on the province's Action Plan for Safe Drinking Water in Victoria on Tuesday.

"If people were prepared to pay for municipal water what they are prepared to pay for bottled water, we'd have no issues with infrastructure, planning and funding that the report shows we actually have," Kendall said.

The report, which covers the fiscal reporting period of 2007-08 and 2008-09, touched on a number of highlights, including that there were no community outbreaks of water-borne illness related to drinking water systems during the reporting period.

But challenges were also noted - mainly the number of users on small water systems that could be hooked into larger systems and a lack of drinking water infrastructure in some smaller communities.

The report also tackles the lack of planning and the resulting cost of replacing crumbling municipal infrastructure where "some of those systems are in trouble," said Young.

The highest risk systems must be identified and supported with more government grants, and taxpayers should be prepared to pay more to keep their water safe and accessible, he said.

"I would advise people for the cost of water - which is less than a tenth of cent a litre - it's that we are getting the best value in the world," Young said.

B.C.'s health officer says any savings made by sharing the costs of a larger water system are lost on the many smaller systems, which cost more per unit to develop and maintain.

"Even if we were to take the amount we currently spend on bottled water and invest that back into municipal infrastructure to pay for what we need, that would be a substantial change."

Russell Moore, president of Ripple FX Water in B.C., has been in the water business since 1995. Bottled water companies have rescued municipal water systems when disaster has struck, he said.

"It's just in vogue to choose to throw bottled water under the bus rather than recognize there's a money issue, not a bottled water issue."


Within the report's recommendations is a call for the province to pursue legislative change to allow decisionmakers to:

? prohibit the creation of multiple small water systems where one larger system could be developed.

? extend boundaries to expand government-owned water supply systems.

? require developers to connect new properties with nearby existing water supply systems.


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