Drinking Water Quality

British Columbia's drinking water at the tap is generally very safe. However, outbreaks of water-borne disease caused by pathogens (e.g., bacteria, protozoa and viruses) and chemicals occur from time to time. Pathogens usually get into drinking water supplies when lakes or streams, or community water-supply pipes or storage reservoirs, are contaminated by animal wastes or human sewage.

Water suppliers are responsible for delivering safe drinking water that meets the requirements of the Drinking Water Protection Act and Drinking Water Protection Regulation, as well as the conditions set on their operating permits. These requirements include treating the water, if necessary, and ensuring water quality through monitoring. Water suppliers must notify the public when there is a potential or actual problem.

The health authorities' drinking water officers are responsible for providing the oversight to ensure compliance and drinking water safety. Environmental health officers, public health engineers and medical health officers are also involved in this work.

Water suppliers should contact their local drinking water officer and public health engineer before building or altering a drinking water supply system to determine if a construction permit is required. They must also ensure new drinking water systems have the proper certificates and approvals from other government ministries.

Drinking water officers are mandated to apply and enforce the Drinking Water Protection Act and Drinking Water Protection Regulation. They monitor the operations of drinking water systems and act on any notices of threats to drinking water quality. Drinking water officers are responsible for issuing operating permits, and will work with water suppliers to help them achieve compliance with the legislation and the conditions on their permits.

The health authorities use progressive enforcement to ensure compliance with the Drinking Water Protection Act and the requirement for the provision of potable drinking water. Part of this progressive enforcement involves requiring planning information from the water supplier that demonstrates, using critical time frames, that infrastructure and treatment upgrades are being addressed responsibly.

For example, a water supplier can be required to have a cross-connection control program if so directed by a drinking water officer, or as part of a system assessment and response plan including time frames.

Water suppliers are required to have the water from their systems analyzed for the presence of microbiological pathogens and other indicator organisms by a laboratory approved by the Provincial Health Officer. They must make the results of drinking water quality tests available in an annual report.

Concerns or questions about requirements for managing a drinking water system, or how it is being managed, should be directed to the water supplier or the drinking water officer/contact at the local health authority.

For more information, see Shared Roles and Responsibilities in Protecting B.C. Drinking Water.