Waiting for water

Bonnie Learning
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Black Tickle residents hope to be able to turn on their taps soon

Laura Keefe has her fingers crossed that Black Tickle’s advanced drinking water system will be back online by the end of this week.

The small community on Labrador’s south coast has been without clean drinking water since this spring, when the water system’s full-time employee was laid off due to lack of funds. The community has been on a boil-water order ever since.

To add to the situation, all the original members of the community’s local service district resigned for one reason or another shortly after the water system was shut down.

“We (recently) applied for more money to operate, and we had some funding come through from NunatuKavut and the provincial government,” explained Laura Keefe, the treasurer for the local service district, noting the funds total approximately $30,000.

She said the former full-time employee has since been rehired, but other problems arose.

“There was an issue with the pump … so we got a new pump, and then there was an issue with the power source. So we had to get the line crew in from Goose Bay to fix that.”

As of Monday, all lines were being flushed and chlorine is being added, and samples will be sent to Happy Valley-Goose Bay for testing, Keefe said.

“We will be sending samples out on Monday and Wednesday next week, as they need samples taken 48 hours apart,” she explained.

“If they come back fine, then we can start full operations again.”

Keefe noted that while many residents have been boiling their water, others have not.

“People have gotten sick from drinking (untreated water from local brooks),” she said. “People have also gotten water by getting iceberg chips.”

As for her own home, Keefe said she is grateful she purchased a reverse osmosis system.

“It is basically a water treatment system, but on a small scale,” she said. “Today, they run around $200, so it’s definitely something worth looking at.”

The water issue in Black Tickle was also a concern recently given the lack of grocery stock at local stores.

Due to issues with both the MV Astron and MV Sir Robert Bond, in the last few weeks many coastal Labrador communities were without freight and are only now receiving summer supplies.

Lisa Dempster, the MHA for Cartwright-L’Anse au Clair, held a public meeting in Black Tickle two weeks ago to talk about the freight issue and other concerns.

“I had a call from (a constituent) who said she was thirsty,” recalled Dempster.

“Now, I’ve been asked for a lot of things as MHA, but this is the first time someone has called me up and said they were thirsty.”

Dempster said she can’t comprehend how, in this day and age, any community in Newfoundland and Labrador can be without access to clean drinking water.

“People (have been) buying pop and juice because there is no clean drinking water. And we all know you can drink as much of that as you want, but nothing is going to actually quench your thirst like water.”

She said it was not an option for business owners to bring in bottled water during the water system shutdown.

“I spoke to a business owner (July 8). I asked why there was no bottled water available. She explained to me that if she were to bring in bottled water, which is not subsidized under the province’s Air Food Lift program, she would have to sell it for $8-$9 a gallon because of the cost to bring it in on a plane. People on low incomes wouldn’t be able to afford that.”

A spokesperson for Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs said via email, “clean and safe drinking water is a priority for the Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs in its support of municipal infrastructure.”

“The department … is aware of these issues and has been working with community leaders in the community to help them identify ways to support the ongoing operations of their (water system).

“The community is currently making efforts to reactivate the system with the support of staff from the department’s Labrador regional office.”

The email also said small-scale water treatment plants, with low operation and maintenance costs, are a viable and sustainable option for remote communities where drinking water can be collected that meets the Canadian drinking water quality guidelines.

“Communities with a population of 500 or less are encouraged to consider this option for addressing water quality issues.”

The Labradorian

Organizations: Department of Municipal and Intergovernmental Affairs

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, Goose Bay, Black Tickle Happy Valley

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