Audit calls for improvements to Metro Vancouver water plan

Local plan compared to Ontario system

By Stanley Tromp, Contributing writer, January 30, 2012

A new internal audit at Metro-Vancouver looks to raise the bar for water services.

An audit of Metro Vancouver’s new plan to boost drinking water quality found 17 “opportunities for improvement,” but the organization isn’t ready to talk about it yet.

The summary of a December 2011 “stage 1 audit” of the plan by the internal audit branch of Metro Vancouver was obtained by the Courier under the freedom of information law.

Although the new system is not required by provincial law, the auditors say the voluntary initiative is meant to prove the region¹s commitment to water safety.

The new system is based on Ontario’s water standards—the Drinking Water Quality Management System, or DWQMS—that were passed as a result of the 2000 Walkerton tragedy when the Ontario town’s water supply was contaminated by E. coli bacteria and seven people died. It is also similar to management systems from the International Standards Organization.

In Ontario, to obtain a licence to operate a water system, each municipality must have an operational plan that meets these standards, and the plan must also be audited.

The December audit compared Metro’s plan to the 21 elements required by the Ontario system. Metro’s plan conformed to 101 out of 133 (or 76 percent) of those standard’s elements. There were 17 “opportunities for improvement” advised, especially in the fields of risk assessment and records control. Smaller concerns were noted for the areas of the quality management system, and equipment calibration and maintenance. Metro officials say a preliminary review of those opportunities does not indicate any risk to the water quality.

Asked what if anything is being done by Metro to improve the DWQMS plan to raise the score higher than 76 per cent, Bill Morrell, Metro Vancouver’s media spokesperson, said the water audit is now “under detailed review by Metro Vancouver technical staff” and that answers will be given at some time in the next several weeks.

The GVRD website says: “To ensure drinking water meets provincial regulations and federal guidelines, Metro Vancouver has developed a Drinking Water Treatment Program that includes primary and secondary disinfection.” The new DWQMS system noted in the audit would help support this program’s goals.

A July 2011 internal audit on the security level of Metro’s computer systems found that “56 out of 83 (or 68%) expected controls are currently in place and are operating as intended.” Auditors noted 30 opportunities for improvement, and that management agreed with all the recommendations. The audit did not say how many if any of those recommendations have since been implemented, nor what kinds of databases (such as personal) that Metro handles.

The Metro Vancouver board chairperson, Port Coquitlam mayor Greg Moore, told the Courier he hadn’t seen either audit, but believes they are still in draft stages, and expects they would need to go to committees first before going to full Metro board. “We have the best tap water around and we’re constantly making improvements. To say any more would be speculative.”

Every day, more than one billion litres of water flows from taps in Metro Vancouver. The umbrella organization provides drinking water to its 24 member local entities at cost by acquiring and maintaining the water, treating it to ensure its quality, and delivering it to the members, who in turn convey it to their residences and businesses. Metro is planning to meet the water needs of 800,000 more people by 2025.

For a copy of the executive summary of the audit, see here.

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