Developing a community-based monitoring program for drinking water supplies in the Indian Bay Watershed: A baseline study of surface water quality, contamination sources and resident practices and perceptions

Holisko, Stephen and Speed, David and Vodden, Kelly and Sarkar, Atanu (2014) Developing a community-based monitoring program for drinking water supplies in the Indian Bay Watershed: A baseline study of surface water quality, contamination sources and resident practices and perceptions. Project Report. The Harris Centre.

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Drinking water issues in rural Newfoundland and Labrador are closely tied to the health of watersheds and thus are relevant to residents, users, and neighboring communities of those watersheds. Because boil water advisories (BWA) and persistent challenges to supplying safe drinking water in rural municipalities in Newfoundland are commonplace, this project seeks to explore root causes as well as future directions related to these issues. More precisely, this project seeks to design community-based approaches to water stewardship to supplement the supply and monitoring of drinking water as currently carried out by municipalities and the provincial government. This project focused on the Towns of Indian Bay and Centreville-Wareham-Trinity (CWT). The Town of Indian Bay has been on BWA since September 2008, largely due to inadequate treatment and distribution infrastructure, while the Town of CWT has experienced periodic BWAs in recent years for a variety of reasons. Evidence suggests that a significant proportion of the residents in these communities draw their primary drinking water sources from outside the public supply: specifically, from natural roadside springs as well as store-bought bottled water. Evidence further suggests that there is a level of distrust as well as distaste for publicly supplied drinking water among residents. For these reasons, it may be inadequate to merely “fix” infrastructural and management related issues within these water systems to ensure drinking water safety and security. Public education, outreach, participation, and awareness are all critical factors. Several key methods were used to carry out the research. Source water sampling was carried out at sites throughout the Indian Bay Watershed (the Town of Indian Bay’s water supply) as well as two popular roadside springs. In addition to results that indicate the presence of E. coli and therefore threats to public health, this sampling provides a baseline for future water quality research and the potential to monitor changes water quality in the Indian Bay Watershed over time. It also provides a starting point for future efforts to monitor the quality of water drawn from popular natural roadside springs, a role that a community-based environmental stewardship organization such as the Indian Bay Ecosystem Corporation (IBEC) may potentially fulfill. A household survey seeking resident practices and perceptions towards their drinking water supplies was also conducted. All households in the communities were contacted for the survey and asked to provide information on household practices as well as practices while in the IBW. Findings from the survey confirm that a majority of community members (55 percent) draw their water from natural roadside springs despite the presence of municipal water systems, and suggest that the reasons for this relate to taste, smell, and perceived safety. Concerns over drinking water safety were found to be both real and perceived. Survey results demonstrate that perceptions and preferences matter a great deal: distrust of public drinking water supplies has clearly led residents to seek alternate sources, sources that are unmonitored and may have significant added risk 7 and costs. As users of the IBW, residents appeared both generally informed of, as well as receptive to, regulations in the watershed as a protected water supply area. This represents a strong point from which to guide future environmental education and watershed stewardship initiatives, although most residents indicated that they did not believe there were any current threats to their drinking water and therefore may be uninformed about potential risks. Only 20% feel that recreational uses are cause for concern. There were no reported instances of drinking water-related illnesses in the community over the past year. The majority of participants are, however, concerned about such illnesses. As part of a commitment to a collaborative, iterative approach to community-based research and in recognition that the issues around provisioning of safe and secure drinking water are complex and myriad, feedback and input was sought from a diversity of stakeholders, government officials, and holders of special knowledge with regards to drinking water supplies within the region, the province, and elsewhere in the country. Through such an approach, researchers sought to identify future drinking water quality initiatives in which community participation may play a vital role. Water security, quality, and safety are, after all, rooted in the environments in which these communities are based.

Item Type: Report (Project Report)
Item ID: 8124
Keywords: Watersheds, Drinking water supplies, Water quality, Land-use practices, Subsistence, Culture, Recreation
Department(s): Medicine, Faculty of
Grenfell Campus > School of Science and the Environment > Environmental Policy Institute
Divisions > The Harris Centre
Date: March 2014
Date Type: Publication

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