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Water Today Title January 27, 2021

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Update 2018/4/5
First Nation Water


This story is brought to you in part by Borrum Energy Solutions

By Cori Marshall

WaterToday has covered drinking water advisories (DWA) in First Nations communities extensively. As you know the federal government has pledged to end all long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities by March of 2021.

A new study - Drinking water supply systems: decreasing advisories and improving treatment through real-time water quality monitoring - suggests that real-time monitoring of water systems could reduce precautionary DWAs experienced in these communities significantly.

Authored by Kerry Black and Edward McBean, the study argues that "while the majority of DWAs are in place for long periods of time, they do not necessarily indicate unacceptable water quality." The study proposed using real-time monitoring technology to monitor the quality of water, arguing "communities can be re-empowered and gain increased control over their water systems."

The study estimates that the frequency of DWAs in First Nations Communities can be reduced by more than 36%.

Edward McBean, Professor at the University of Guelph, co-author of the study, has been doing this type of research work with students for the last ten years. The inspiration for the study came from the realization that in regards to DWAs in First Nations communities "we have a big problem," and a need to find out "how we solve it."

McBean explained that there "are a lot of ideas, (to address the amount of DWAs), there is data mining and artificial intelligence models." These methods are used in an attempt "to figure out what can we do better." McBean had been "working on real-time monitoring for other reasons, and it seemed logical to apply it to the drinking water situation in First Nations communities.

Though there are many reasons why there are so many DWAs, one of the observations from the study is that "precautionary DWAs are the most challenging" McBean said.

It is particularly challenging when the water is affected on the microbiological level. McBean explained that "it takes a while to figure out that the microbiological contaminants are there." This is why "when there is high turbidity you get a boil water advisory, it doesn't necessarily mean that they will get ill, we just don't know."

This situation is compounded in remote communities, "it could take days to get test results back," McBean said.

If real-time measurements if characteristics such as "temperature and turbidity these would be good indicators that suddenly things are changing," McBean underlined.

According to the latest information from Indigenous Services Canada, there are currently 78 long-term DWAs still in effect, we asked if real-time monitoring could have an effect on addressing the First Nations communities that have been without safe drinking water for twelve months or more.

McBean said that "that is more difficult, some of the long-term advisories are a result of there being no water treatment." Real-time monitoring may not be able to help bring these numbers down.

Where this type of technology would be beneficial is in areas where "the operators are pretty stressed out," he said. He added that "they are also involved in other areas of the community." This means that there is no one dedicated to the task of water treatment 100% of the time.

Real-time monitoring would become the second set of eyes, "it would be able to send a signal to the operator saying something is changing, therefore people are aware and can make adjustments in the treatment process."

McBean assured that this technology is not meant to replace operators on the ground, it is intended to work with them. "No one person can be available at all times, there are the holidays and other days off." McBean said "the normal operation of a budget is short," real-time would act as a backup when the operator is not on duty.

There are concerns with the technology. McBean said that there are questions surrounding "who owns the information when it becomes available, and there is some concern from operators is that is somebody watching over my shoulder."

McBean mentioned that ISC had taken notice of the study. The task of ending all drinking water advisories in less than three years is a daunting task, the study argued that addressing the issue will take "a multi-faceted approach." This approach is worth exploring real-time monitoring could possibly offer a reduction in DWA frequency, improved monitoring and treatment, as well as community empowerment.


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