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Tuesday 1 March 2011

6 Year Thirst

Today is like many days. You wake up early, you brush your teeth and you get a shower. You make breakfast with tea and a tall glass of cold water to start your day right. On your way to work you turn on the radio in the car to get caught up on the news of the day when you hear that your home is in an area under a boil water advisory due to lack of chlorination, high coliform counts and the presence of E.Coli bacteria. Your mind flashes back to your shower, your breakfast and your big glass of water and one word stabs its way into your mind, Walkerton.

Now back to reality in NL right? Actually, that scenario is highly possible in this province due to a disturbingly high amount of boil orders as seen here. The 5 page list include over 200 communities that have enacted a boil order for drinking water. Sound disturbing yet? What about if the average boil order on that list has been in place since 2005? That's a long time to have to boil water. Could you boil every mouthful of drinking water for 6 years? Not me. If you look really closely you'll notice that some of the boil orders were established quite a bit longer then just 6 years ago. Dates including 2000, 1997 and even 1991 are included in the list. That's 20 years with no potable water. Disturbed now? If not then there's one last date to consider. January 1,1984. That's the date the community of Portugal Cove South enacted a boil order that has yet to be lifted. 27 years. The fact that there are no protests or burning effigies is a testament to either our collective patience and faith, or to our resignation to apathy.

A recent report released by the C.D. Howe Institute indicates that Canada's drinking water is vulnerable. Talk about yesterdays news. The story is covered by CBC here, and report highlights the special dangers for rural communities. The story quotes the report as saying "Those assigned to provide drinking water need to be afforded the training, intellectual support and compensation that is commensurate with their taking responsibility, through their actions or inactions, for the health of an entire community." Let me reassure you, that is a fact not lost on the mayors and councillors who maintain the pump-houses and chlorination injection systems in rural communities around NL. As usual, the resources just aren't available. One service that is currently being utilized in some areas is the PWDU or Potable Water Dispensing Unit. It's kind of like a small water treatment center where people can come and get safe drinking water on a small scale. It is helping for the areas that have them, but again they are not free.

How we ended up with million dollar water and sewer systems in areas that never needed them is a story for another day. As is the discussion around sewer systems themselves. For now we need to consider that for rural NL to survive, or more specifically the residents of rural NL, we need to get working on a reasonable solution to our drinking water crisis. And yes it's a crisis. Just ask the people who have been boiling their drinking water for over 20 years.

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