Simon Fraser University earth scientist Diana Allen is among six scientific and industry experts on an advisory panel that has helped the provincial government develop a new regulation to protect B.C.'s drinking water.
“Walkerton was an eye opener for British Columbia,” says Allen, a groundwater resources expert and chair of SFU's earth sciences department. Six people died when a complex array of factors, unique to the Walkerton situation, led to fatal contamination of the town's drinking water supply. The provincial government has been working proactively for the last decade to make sure that one of those factors - improper well construction and wellhead protection - doesn't cause similar drinking water tragedies in B.C.
Prior to B.C.'s new Ground Water Protection regulation, there were neither standards in B.C. governing well construction nor any requirement that well drillers and well pump installers be certified. B.C. is the last province to bring in such regulation. Approximately 750,000 British Columbians (20 percent of the population), mostly in the Fraser Valley, the B.C. interior, on the east coast of Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, rely on wells in groundwater-fed aquifers for their drinking water supply. “We still don't have a handle on the total number of wells in B.C., which is reportedly at least 100,000, because reporting of this information is not mandatory.”
B.C.'s Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, and the British Columbia Ground Water Association, which represents drillers, well pump installers, and industry professionals, led the push for the new regulation. Some aquifers - permeable geological material that supplies groundwater to wells - are at risk of contamination from agriculture, industry and residential development. “Improper well construction appears to be linked to incidents of well water contamination from fecal coliform,” notes Allen.
The government is introducing the Ground Water Protection Regulation in three phases. The first phase will begin to take effect November 1, 2004 with registration of qualified well drillers and well pump installers. Starting November 1, 2005, all wells, whether for single domestic, industrial, irrigation or multiple supply of water, must be properly capped. Newly constructed wells must be sealed, and if unused, deactivated or closed, according to the new standards.
Diana Allen: www.sfu.ca/earth-sciences/people/faculty/allen.html
Ground water protection regulation: wlapwww.gov.bc.ca/wat/gws/gws_reg_back/back.html