In the wake of a failed referendum to provide potable water services in rural areas, the Peace River Regional District is worried it may be held liable if someone is harmed by drinking contaminated water.
The board decided on Jan. 14 that it would leave area water stations open for now, and soon, it will hold a referendum to decide if rural residents would be in favour of a separate approval process to allow the PRRD to provide potable water services.
The regional district has provided untreated water stations for agricultural use in rural areas for a number of years.
In November, it sought approval from residents through a referendum for an addition to rural property taxes that would create a fund to pay to have the water stations treated. The public was not in favour of this idea.
Staff presented options on how to continue providing untreated water while acknowledging that the PRRD was exposed to legal liability if someone falls ill or dies from drinking contaminated water it provides.
"The regulations (from provincial and federal governments) have come down in part because of what happened in Walkerton, Ontario," Fort St. John Mayor Lori Ackerman said, recalling that town's contaminated water supply crisis in 2000 that killed seven and left hundreds more sick.
"People died and the local government was held to account because there was not the appropriate investment in infrastructure and there were people aware of it."
The PRRD detceted E. coli at its Romedo spring last year, however the water is only intended for crops and no one became sick as a result.
There are currently signs on the water stations to indicate that the water is not safe for drinking, but Northern Health's drinking water officer has notified the regional district that this does not absolve them from responsibility should someone become ill.
"For me it's overkill (to close the water stations)," Area B Director Karen Goodings said. "These water stations have been in use for a number of years — there has never been a problem. I think liability is such a scare tactic. I really don't think we are going to be in a position that there will be a problem, but I respect the fact the board disagrees with that."
Ackerman suggested that with the proper fee in place, private companies can provide portable treated water stations, the kind that are commonly used in work camps.
A separate referendum also held in November to increase property taxes to pay for ongoing maintenance to the Charlie Lake sewage facility was also defeated. The PRRD will decide how to proceed on that issue at its Jan. 28 meeting in Dawson Creek.