The provincial government tabled changes to the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act that would push back target dates to improve municipal water systems.
Municipalities had until 2008 to upgrade their drinking water, but they would have until 2020 to meet this year's standards under the new legislation.
Upgrades to waste water treatment would also be pushed back from 2017 to 2020.
Environment Minister Sterling Belliveau said the new targets are more realistic because some municipalities lack the money needed to improve their infrastructure.
His department estimates it would cost municipalities up to $14 million to meet the drinking water standards while the waste water estimate is $463 million — $450 million of which is for upgrades in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality alone.
"Municipalities want to do this," said Belliveau. "There's also a need to make sure there is federal funding in place so that they can partner in getting these facilities upgraded."
The department said that as of March, about 86 per cent of municipalities had met standards for drinking water while 91 per cent had met their waste water treatment goal.
Department officials said there are no penalties if the municipalities don't meet the new targets.
Liberal environment critic Andrew Younger said the proposed changes wouldn't have much impact because municipalities who haven't acted yet are already four years late on drinking water standards.
He said the amended targets are part of a trend following a rollback on mercury emissions in 2010.
In a bid to head off proposed electricity rate hikes by Nova Scotia Power, the government pushed an annual cap of 65 kilograms for mercury emissions to 2014 and said it would be followed by a 35-kilogram cap in 2020.
"It's a signal that the government hasn't got in place the strategies and the teeth behind the strategies fast enough to implement this act," said Younger.
Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said upgrades to waste water treatment would be pushed back to 2017 from 2012.