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Water Today Title March 20, 2018

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Advisory of the Day



This story is brought to you in part by Energy Systems & Designs

Upper area residents of Cox's Cove in Western Newfoundland who have been living under boil water advisory (BWA) since October 21, 2016 may never have been made aware of the BWA in the first place.

The town rests in the Bay of Islands just east of the Gulf of the St. Lawrence River and is home to beautiful scenery, Cox's Cove Falls, the Big Hill Festival, and a strong fishing and tourism industry.

With a population of 688, The Newfoundland Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment Boil Water Advisory Report states that 60 people are affected. Cox's Cove has two water sources; the buildings serviced by the contaminated groundwater well are all residential.

The initial report which dates from over a year ago cites that E. coli detected in an initial sample(s) was considered extensive. Despite this, former mayor Tony Oxford said he did not know about it until this reporter made him aware of it.

When asked about how his concerns for clean drinking water may have changed since the BWA, Mr. Oxford asked "what boil water advisory are you talking about? I don't really follow those things." Mr. Oxford, who decided not to run again in last month's election owns True North Charters and Tours with his wife Joan Oxford. He also lives in the area affected by the BWA.

Communications Director for the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, Erin Shea said that "since October 20, 2016 there have been eight sets of bacteriological tests taken. The last set of samples taken on August 24, 2017 indicated the presence of Total Coliforms, but no E.coli was present. However, the decision was made that the boil water advisory should remain in effect for consumer safety."

The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment website explains that "boil water advisories are issued when water sampling and testing detects higher than accepted amounts of coliforms (bacteria) or if there are deficiencies with regard to chlorination or other forms of disinfection. In such cases, the results are immediately communicated to affected communities for appropriate action."

The website advises the owner or operator of a drinking water supply to alert anyone consuming water from that supply. It also states that "for advisories that remain in effect for more than one month, a monthly reminder to continue to boil drinking water should be forwarded to water consumers." Despite this obligation, it is unclear whether or not the results were ever actually communicated to residents.

According to Health Canada's Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, standards for both E. coli and Total Coliforms are the same, counts of 0/100ml. Health Canada's Guidelines explain that "in non disinfected groundwater the presence of Total Coliforms may indicate that the system is vulnerable to contamination, or it may be a sign of bacterial regrowth."

Residents should have been advised to boil their water for at least one minute before consumption. This includes drinking, preparing infant formulas, meals, brushing teeth, and washing fruit and vegetables.

When Oxford was asked if he or anyone he knows had gotten sick recently, he simply said no. Though he added that "probably the biggest challenge is the level of regulation ... now of course we're still hypersensitive to the unfortunate events in Walkerton and the bar was raised high since those events and that tragedy. Now when you flush your lines or do anything, you gotta put in a BWA. In the area where I live chances are ... these are two deep wells, this water is coming from over 100 metres down in the earth. The chance of faecal contamination surfacing the decontaminator is unlikely. It wreaks havoc in communities, you look cross this province. You drive across Newfoundland there's a boil water advisory in almost every second community."

Mr. Oxford told this reporter Cox's Cove has had its public water supplies protected under the Water Resources Act of Newfoundland "for some thirty years."

When asked whether there was a system to monitor the watershed for any activities that could damage the water supply Oxford explained that "the jurisdiction of a number of municipalities and department of environment and municipalities "is kind of a shared jurisdiction, and coordinated by the town. So if they want to allocate more resources we could hire someone to police that watershed but it could be an exorbitant cost. So we rely on the government to structure their activities and issue their permits with the knowledge to protect the water supply."

When asked about potential problems facing small communities in maintaining a clean source of drinking water Oxford said "they had done relatively well in training their employees. Of course in small communities the number of resources you have available is one part time employee who does all that work. Sometimes there can be problems in training."

Communications Director for the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, Erin Shea said in an email that "the source of contamination is unknown at this time, however, the drinking water source is a drilled groundwater well. Poor construction of the well is the likely cause of contamination." Shea explained that "the groundwater inspection program identified several well deficiencies that require rehabilitation including an unsealed well and improperly sloped area around the wellhead."

Shea said that "the disinfection system is operational, [and that] the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment requires two consecutive bacteriological samples to be collected with no positive results. The department anticipates that this boil water advisory may be lifted this fall, once two consecutive bacteriological sample results are reported."

Mr. Oxford's statement about "Walkerton" refers to events in Walkerton, Ontario in May 2000 where municipal water became contaminated with a particularly deadly strain of E. coli killing seven people and causing 2,300 people to become ill.

Numerous attempts were made to contact the community town spokesperson. They did not respond in time for publication

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