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News, Western Canada

Manitoba Considers New Groundwater Rules

Posted on May 15, 2012

New rules being proposed this week would replace Manitoba’s almost 50-year-old groundwater regulations as part of a strategy to better protect the 25 per cent of Manitobans who rely on well water, Conservation and Water Stewardship Minister Gord Mackintosh announced today.

About 1,500 water wells are drilled in Manitoba each year. There are currently about 35,000 active water wells. The proposed legislation would include new driller responsibilities and liability insurance requirements that would protect landowners, including protection from the cost of uncontrolled flowing wells, said Mackintosh.

The proposed measures would be a key component of the province’s strategy to protect aquifers, groundwater and those who rely on well water, said Mackintosh, adding the eight-point strategy would include:

  • strong new rules to govern well drilling and sealing and to formalize aquifer management planning;
  • new educational materials for well owners will be developed in partnership with stakeholders to support the new regulatory requirements that wells be properly maintained;
  • the development of a modernized groundwater and well database including web-based information to provide improved and more accessible information to well owners, drillers and sealers;
  • improved mapping of groundwater to ensure the availability of updated maps including information such as overburden thickness, water quality and flowing well areas;
  • new oversight and support to small (semi-public) water system owners including those who use groundwater as a water source;
  • improved pattern surveillance and investigation of well water quality contamination events with the potential to affect private wells;
  • increased technical support for compliance with the Drinking Water Safety Act for public and semi‑public systems including those that use groundwater as a water source; and
  • new water advisory guidelines including thresholds for issuing and ending advisories for small communities served by individual wells.

“We are pleased that the province is committed to implementing long-needed changes to the current legislation” said Jeff Bell, president, Manitoba Water Well Association.  ”We look forward to working with the province to develop new regulations.”

The new proposals would include:

  • new and improved licensing and standards to protect groundwater and well owners including updated standards for well construction and new standards for the sealing of wells;
  • first-in-Manitoba certification requirements for well drillers and sealers including those drilling water wells and geothermal wells;
  • measures to enable the development of a certification program for well hookups and pump installers; and
  • a formal process for aquifer management planning, similar to measures in place for surface water under the Water Protection Act.

Property owners who construct wells with their own equipment on their own property will not require licenses or certification.  However, well construction standards and other measures would apply to all to ensure that groundwater is protected.  Requirements would also apply to geothermal, geotechnical and monitoring wells that are not addressed in the existing legislation, Mackintosh said.

The minister added his department will work with stakeholders such as the Manitoba Water Well Association and Manitoba Geothermal Energy Alliance to develop made-in-Manitoba certification programs that make use of existing national certification programs where available.

While groundwater quality in Manitoba is typically good, some well owners experience issues with bacterial and/or nitrate contamination.  Often contamination affecting private wells can be attributed to old and poorly constructed or poorly maintained wells, or unsealed or improperly abandoned wells that provide a pathway for contamination to enter the aquifer.  In addition, some historical examples of bacterial contamination of wells can be attributed to failing septic fields.

“These proposed measures would ensure that new wells are constructed to meet standards and will ensure that abandoned and contaminated wells are sealed properly,” said Mackintosh.  “It will also provide clear guidance to ensure wells are maintained in such a way to minimize the occurrence of contaminated wells.”

The new rules would build on previously introduced regulations for sewage disposal introduced in 2009 and would support long-term aquifer protection from bacteriological contamination, reducing the possibility of contamination as seen in the past, the minister said.

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