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Thursday, 24 March 2011

Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

If you were to read the latest joint press release from Municipal Affairs and Environment and Conservation you might just get the impression that the drinking water situation is well in hand. After all, we've been training operators for over ten years now. Surely, that is a significant accomplishment and our drinking water woes are behind us. Right? Not exactly.

While training water system operators is a great thing, and needs to be continued, there are significant issues that are severely glossed over by Minister Ross Wiseman's comment that it is "...a challenging responsibility for communities..." After a read through, something might strike you as a little odd. That would be the section regarding the award for "The 2011 Volunteer operator of the year." That was then followed up by Municipal Affairs Minister Kevin O'Brien's comment regarding the operators, saying that "...a number of whom are volunteers." So the minister openly admits that volunteers are ding the required work instead of paid staff. Now we should all be thankful for the work of volunteers, especially in rural NL. But, drinking water safety is not only a huge responsibility but a public health and safety issue. So why don't communities have enough funding to pay operators for their water system? How about the over 200 communities currently under a boil order as discussed here?

The other issue is buried a little deeper. Lets say that all towns could hire a fully trained and qualified staff person to operate their water systems. Would we still have multiple 20 year old boil orders? Of course we would. The reason we have so many is not due to a lack of training but due to a lack of funding for infrastructure maintenance and upgrades over time. You can train everyone you want but without the funding some people will still have e-coli in their tapwater.

I have to agree with The Sir Robert Bond Papers on this one. Training is a great thing, but we need serious action if we are to make all the potable water in NL safe to drink.

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