One government department can no longer afford the fee increases of another, and now a major tourism operator in the province says he is concerned about a risk to public safety.
In June, the health department notified operators of restaurants, bars and swimming pools in the province it would no longer be testing their water, as has been the practice during yearly inspections.
Now, owners and operators are responsible for collecting their own water samples and having them tested to ensure no bacteria such as E. coli is present.
But this change comes at a time when the highest number of swimming pools ever are being shut down by environmental health due to water quality problems identified during testing.
Ryan Neale, senior environmental health officer for the Department of Health, said water analysis tests were previously conducted at no cost to operators as part of annual inspections.
But government recently approved a fee increase for water tests, which are performed by the Department of Environment. The fees were raised from $27.50 per test to $35.
This made the tests too expensive for the health department. Previously, health was spending between $40,000 to $50,0000 annually in water testing fees.
"The department is not able to absorb the costs of water sample analysis any longer and so that's why that change was made," Neale said.
But Matthew Jelley, president of the Cavendish Beach and the Dunes Shores Tourism Association and also a major tourism operator in the province, questioned the appropriateness of cutting spending on water testing. He worries this could pose a risk to public safety.
"I certainly would question whether this is the best place to make a cut," Jelley said.
"We understand that government has to make some spending decisions, but in areas where the public health is at risk and in areas where there have been effective testing in the past that have uncovered issues, it seems like an unusual policy to form."
Jelley, who operates a water park in Cavendish among numerous ventures, said he is especially concerned over the fact swimming pools will no longer be tested by health officials.
In the same letter advising operators of the water testing policy change, a warning was issued to pool operators over the concerning number of pools that had to be closed after water quality problems were identified.
A total of 31 pools were closed in 2011 for inadequate disinfectant, high cyanuric levels, chemical imbalance or water clarity issues, according to the health department letter.
"We are disappointed to see pool closures have increased over 100 per cent since 2008," the letter says, calling this a "serious decline in compliance."
"The department is not able to absorb the costs of water sample analysis any longer and so that's why that change was made," - Ryan Neale, senior environmental health officer for the Department of Health
"In addition, 37 pools had insufficient operating records to log water chemistry readings, an essential component to track your pool's performance."
Despite the warning, the situation is not getting better.
Neale said so far this year 25 pools have had to be shut down due to the same problems found in water samples.
That's almost a quarter of all public and semi-public pools in the province. And Neale said he believes more will be found and this year's final numbers will be similar to last.
One of the main issues is a lack of understanding about how to regulate pool water and the chemicals that must go in it, he said.
"We're using the routine inspections as an opportunity to educate and on follow up inspections, we see that they are getting the message."
Despite Jelley's concerns, Neale does not believe pool operators and restaurant and bar owners testing their own water will put public safety at risk. As part of the changes, environmental health officers will be conducting random audits to ensure test results provided by the operators are legitimate.
"Our goal, as always, and we hope the goal of an operator too, is to provide a safe water supply for the public," he said.
"We feel that operators are responsible enough to sample their own water and provide those results to us. But can we stop those situations (of non-compliance)? Maybe not."
He also pointed out that accommodations operators in the province have been doing their own water testing for the last few years.
Don Cudmore of the Tourism Industry Association of P.E.I. said the issue has been brought to the attention of TIAPEI and he is seeking information from the department.
"Health inspections and all safety inspections are very important to keeping the integrity to P.E.I. tourism operators as well as guaranteeing safety of our visitors," Cudmore said.
JUST THE FACTS
Total number of public/semi-public pools in P.E.I.: 109
Number of pools shut down due to water quality issues in 2011: 31
Number of pools shut down due to water quality problems this year to date: 25