Report on B.C. drinking water hard on the government and doesn't mention corporations

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      The provincial government has commissioned and shared a comprehensive report on British Columbia’s drinking water.

      “Risks to drinking water throughout the province are increasing from a number of factors, including population growth, increasing industrial practices, climate change and shortages within the water treatment workforce,” it reads.

      The review by the Office of the Auditor General of B.C. primarily focused on the Ministry of Health and the provincial health officer and those bodies’ records under the B.C. Drinking Water Protection Act working to preserve and safeguard the population’s drinking water.

      “We found that [the Ministry of] Health had coordinated with many ministries to address systemic and site specific risks to source water, but overall, Health’s efforts were limited and risks remain,” the 45-page document reads. “The [Drinking Water Protection] Act also allows the PHO to recommend a drinking water protection plan to ensure source watersheds are protected. We found that this tool has not been used in the 16 years since the Act was amended.”

      The office of the auditor general included makes a number of recommendations in the report. They include encouraging the Ministry of Health to improve cross-ministry coordination, develop a strategic plan for the protection of drinking water, and improving oversight and accountability around government’s responsibilities related to drinking water.

      One big area that the report does not cover is corporations’ use of fresh water in B.C.

      Many British Columbians who today (July 30) are taking the time to read a bureaucrat’s report on drinking water were probably hoping it would include one word: “Nestlé”.

      It does not.

      Some might have expected it would because, in 2015, when the NDP was B.C.’s opposition party, it made a stink about the then-governing Liberal party giving Nestlé Waters Canada—a subsidiary of Nestlé, the largest food and beverage company in the world—a deal on B.C.’s water that Spencer Chandra-Herbert, environmental critic at the time, said “doesn't seem quite right to me”.

      Under premier Christy Clark’s leadership, B.C. signed a deal with the multinational corporation that has since allowed the company to pay just $2.25 for every one million litres of water it extracts from the province, most of which it puts into plastic bottles and sells for between $1 and $3 (or more) per some 500 millilitres.

      Granted, the auditor general’s job is to review public spending. But the office could have included in its report a quick glance at corporations’ use of B.C.’s drinking water with a review of government contracts.

      Before and since the 2015 agreement was signed, the cheap prices that big companies like Nestlé pay for water in B.C. is an issue that comes up periodically, usually with citizens expressing support for the province charging more.

      In Ontario, companies have to pay $3.71 for every one million litres of water they take from the province, 65 percent more than they’re charged in B.C.