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Editorial: Water woes

While the pond water looks clear to passersby, some residents serviced by the Petty Harbour Long Pond system have been experiencing discoloured water. The City of St. John’s discovered it is due to elevated levels of manganese. The City of St. John’s has asked residents serviced by the Petty Harbour Long Pond system to use an alternative source of water for drinking while levels of manganese in the water system remain high.
While the pond water looks clear to passersby, some residents serviced by the Petty Harbour Long Pond system have been experiencing discoloured water due to elevated levels of manganese. — Telegram file photo

You may not agree with all of their decisions, but at least they have a very public approach.

The City of St. John’s has been forthright about problems with manganese in part of the city’s water system. Manganese is a naturally occurring element, but elevated levels have been found in the Petty Harbour Long Pond water system, and the city has cautioned people about the risks and made alternate water sources available for anyone affected by the problem. For people who couldn’t get to drinking water supply points, the city offered to make arrangements to have water delivered.

The city started finding high levels in early August, but was unable to pinpoint the cause right away; levels would fluctuate in different areas almost daily. But as soon as the city was confident about the source and extent of the problem, they went public.

But step back for a moment and look at this in a different way. You may well be both affected by the problem and annoyed by it, but for most St. John’s residents, water is clean, constantly available and drinkable right out of the tap.

They have still taken considerable heat about the problem — people find it hard to accept that, in 2018, the city can’t protect them from contaminants in their tap water.

But step back for a moment and look at this in a different way. You may well be both affected by the problem and annoyed by it, but for most St. John’s residents, water is clean, constantly available and drinkable right out of the tap. The system is fully monitored and well operated and, except in rare and localized events like water main breaks, residents who use the St. John’s system rarely have to worry about boil water advisories.

That’s far from the case across the province, or across Canada. There are long-running boil water orders, some running years or even decades, on rural systems in this province that towns have no financial ability to repair. Some date back to decisions in the 1990s to cut funding to municipalities in this province, decisions that left towns unable to employ trained staff to ensure that chlorination systems were working properly.

Some systems have aged to the point that no operator can make them run consistently or well. Pressure problems, icing problems in winter — the list goes on.

And it’s not just in rural parts of this province, either. Across the country, the lack of clean, accessible drinking water is a particular concern for a large number of Indigenous communities, and while the federal government has said it intends to solve that problem, progress has been frustratingly slow.

It’s hard to sit back and say that we’re among the lucky ones, even though there are residents who now have to trek to a water supply point to get drinkable water.

But what some of us are getting is only taste — or maybe discolouration, because that’s the best hint that you’re among the affected — of what others live with day in, day out, sometimes for years on end.

Maybe we should all stop and think.

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