Staff Shortages Threaten Drinking Water Safety
Sep 30, 2020
This week, the Auditor General issued a report called Drinking Water Safety Oversight. It contained alarming statistics that require immediate attention. The MGEU has written a letter to Conservation and Climate Minister, Sarah Guillemard, asking for a meeting to discuss the findings and address critical staffing shortages in the Office of Drinking Water.
“Two years ago this government eliminated water testing regulations by enacting Bill 24. We raised concerns then, and are echoing those once again,” said MGEU President, Michelle Gawronsky. “That bill essentially changed how public and semi-public drinking water suppliers report on the condition of their infrastructure and water supplies.”
Some key findings in the Auditors report include:
- One out of five known water systems were operating without a licence;
- An estimated half of known water systems do not have a certified operator;
- There are high levels of non-compliance by water systems owned by the Department of Indigenous and Northern Relations but limited enforcement actions have been taken; and
- Enforcement actions were rare and used inconsistently.
In terms of funding, between 2013/14 and 2018/19, expenses for the Office of Drinking Water only increased 4 percent, while over the same five year period the number of licensed water systems increased by 53 percent.
In 2014 there were approximately 650 water systems in Manitoba being overseen by 13 water safety officers, for an average of about 50 per officer. By 2019, that ratio deteriorated. There were over 1,000 water systems being overseen by 12 officers, for an average caseload of about 83 per officer. Even Manitoba’s finance minister would agree that adding more cases to fewer people is a recipe for trouble, and as we saw in Walkerton, Ontario that means people can die.
“This is unacceptable and reckless. Our health and safety is in jeopardy,” Gawronsky said. “This report should act as a wakeup call for government to make investments in staffing the office to a point where workloads are manageable, licences are up to date, enforcement is consistent and samples are processed in a timely manner so our drinking water is protected.”