Environmental group worried about changes to drinking water testing regulations

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The executive director of the Manitoba Eco-Network said she is concerned over proposed legislation that would reduce the number of drinking water infrastructure inspections for public water suppliers.

Karen Peters argues that the safety of drinking water is important and questions why the government decided to group it into a "red tape reduction" omnibus bill it introduced Thursday. She argues the government needs to be more cautious, not less.

"We are worried about the implications and we would rather err on the side of safety for our ecosystems and human health and this sounds worrisome," Peters said. "Human health and ecosystems aren't a political issue, they are a human health issue."

Bill 24 eliminates or amends a number of acts the government has deemed "outdated, contradictory, complicated or ineffective," Finance Minister Cameron Friesen said Thursday. 

The amendment to the Drinking Water Safety Act reduces the frequency with which a public or semi-public water supplier has to test their infrastructure.

Wolseley NDP MLA Rob Altemeyer plans to fight the bill.

"I don't understand how you can claim weakening health protections for anyone who drinks water is unnecessary red tape," he said. "The bill should not be called the 'red tape reduction act,' it should be called the 'environmental protection destruction act.'"

The omnibus bill also repeals the Health Services Act, the Manitoba Natural Resources Development Act and the Public-Private Partnerships Transparency and Accountability Act. 

And it would end a requirement that the government report to the legislature on the status of the province's ecological reserves every five years.

NDP MLA Andrew Swan (Minto) said the changes could put water quality and people's health at risk. But Friesen says the decisions are based on science.

The bill will also end a requirement that major capital projects done in partnership with the private sector first undergo a study to compare the benefits of doing them entirely with public funds.

But that comparison process is necessary and should remain in place, the Canadian Union of Public Employees said Thursday.

"It provides minimum provisions for a fair process on ... projects, most of which involve tens or hundreds of millions of dollars and long-term contracts," Kelly Moist, president of CUPE Manitoba, said in a written statement.

"These projects often take public funds and oversight and turn them over to a for-profit entity. Why would any government want to repeal a law that protects the public interest and public funds?"