13 February 2013

Water, water, everywhere…#nlpoli

Before they took office in 2003 – an election year -  the province’s Conservatives pounded the incumbent Liberals for the poor quality of drinking water across the province.

Danny Williams thought the whole thing was such a big problem that he promised to make drinking water a key part of the Conservative agenda after the 2003 election.

Once in office, the Conservatives did nothing about drinking water at all.

In 2007 – another election year -   the Conservatives again promised to do something about drinking water in the province.  The CBC ran a story in December 2007, after the election, that included this wonderful quote:
"I was in Gaultois just prior to the election," said Williams, referring to an isolated community on Newfoundland's south coast, "and couldn't get over the state of the drinking water down there.
"So getting out during byelections and elections and seeing it first-hand really gets you a real feel for what people have been forced to live with in the province, and they shouldn't have to."
Williams was right.  People should not have to live like that.  And they really shouldn’t have to live like it when a gang of politicians come into billions upon billions of dollars in windfall oil cash and yet do absolutely nothing to fulfill a promised made four years earlier.

Williams told CBC that while he had not discussed the matter with his cabinet yet, they would do something about water quality.

They didn’t.

In December 2009 – not an election year – SRBP reminded everyone about the water issue.  The Conservatives had been back in power two years by that point. [six years since their 2003 victory]  In of 2009, 174 communities across the province had at least one boil water order in place.  That works out to about 29% of the communities in Newfoundland and Labrador at the time.

One community – Branch – had been under a boil water advisory since January 1, 1989.  That was 20 years and 11 months.

As of today, the 309 people in Branch are still under a boil water advisory because their community doesn’t have a disinfection system for the town water supply.  Come January 2014, those folks in Branch can celebrate 25 years of boiling their water to drink.

Just think about that for a second.

Then take a gander at the latest instalment in this saga:  CBC reports that 128 water supplies affecting 119 communities in the province have levels of trihalomethanes higher than 100 micrograms per litre, the level set by Health Canada’s drinking water standards.

The THM level in Pouch Cove, near St. John’s is 339.25.  Bonavista, where some residents are under a boil water order as well, the THM level is reported as 265.75.

The provincial environment department downplays THMs.  CBC quotes environment minister Tom Hedderson:
"We believe that it would take a lifetime of exposure to THMs to make some significant differences to your health."
Hedderson’s department is responsible for water testing, which CBC incorrectly gives as the total provincial government responsibility.  According to CBC, Hedderson directed attention to towns who are then responsible for the water supply. 

Neither Hedderson nor CBC mentioned the responsibility of the provincial municipal affairs department  to give towns financial assistance for things like improvements to municipal water supplies. The department even has a drinking water safety program that it operates in co-operation with the environment department.  The program is aimed at communities with fewer than 500 residents but it appears to involve relatively small amounts of money annually.