Curtis-Steele says if inspectors only sample a small number of registered water supplies, they fail to fulfill the role of protecting public health as defined in the Environment Act.

But she says the management is worried about trying to save money. “One time during a meeting I asked David Clarke, who’s now the acting manager of our eastern region, how much the department sets aside for inspectors to take samples during audits,” says Curtis-Steele. “He told me it might be $1,500.”

A single bacteria test costs $30. The budget only allows inspectors to test three per cent of the 1,600 registered water supplies, far fewer than the required 10 per cent.

Janet MacKinnon, district manager of the division’s Port Hawkesbury office, says the whole department budgeted $38,500 for laboratory services last fiscal year. But she can’t say how much of that money is for inspectors to take their own samples during audits.

Apart from money, Curtis-Steele says inspectors also don’t have time to do the water testing. “If a scheduled audit didn’t get done on time,” says Curtis-Steele, “most likely for two reasons: one, the inspectors are stretched doing all kinds of other things, they just didn’t have the time to do it; two, the inspector left the job and (the managers) didn’t reassign their work to someone else.”

Seventy inspectors in the department’s Compliance Division are currently monitoring the 1,600 facilities in the province. That’s roughly 22 wells per inspector. But some get almost 100, and others only get fewer than 20, depending on their other workload.

MacKinnon says none of the inspectors at the division do public drinking water inspections full time – they also oversee other activities involving air and land. But she didn’t comment how works get reassigned when inspectors leave the job.

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This story is part of the 'Tap water in N.S. restaurants and houses equally monitored?' series.
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