THE province will bring in new rules to protect Manitoba's ground wells and aquifers from contamination, Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh said Tuesday.

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THE province will bring in new rules to protect Manitoba's ground wells and aquifers from contamination, Conservation Minister Gord Mackintosh said Tuesday.

The new rules will update legislation that hasn't been significantly touched in about 50 years and will recognize the increase -- about 1,500 new wells are drilled each year -- in well drilling and geothermal installations for home heating.

"That really, I think, gives the legislation being proposed today a more modern urgency [is] a need to recognize that drilling is taking on some unique dimensions in this day and age," Mackintosh said.

Mackintosh said the changes include stricter rules for how wells are drilled, new certification standards for drillers and tougher rules for sealing wells to protect aquifers from being contaminated by flood water.

The province also wants to modernize its groundwater and well database over the next two years and properly map well locations. There are about 35,000 active water wells in the province.

"We know from our research that properly drilled, sealed wells and maintained wells is the greatest way to reduce the risk of contamination and harm to individual water drinkers," Mackintosh said.

The Manitoba Water Well Association (MWWA) and the Manitoba Geothermal Energy Alliance support the proposed changes.

Jeff Bell, president of the MWWA, said the changes are overdue.

The biggest change is drillers will be certified, he said.

"You need to be certified in this province to drive a forklift, but you don't need to be certified to drill on modern equipment," Bell said.

Mackintosh also introduced legislation to allow authorities to more quickly deal with contaminated sites. The proposed legislation would require the owner or occupier of a contaminated site to report it to Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship so it is properly managed and cleaned up. Under existing legislation, the polluter pays to clean up a contaminated site.