Darrell Park used to serve on the Local Service District for Margaree – Fox Roost, and says the committee did its best to fix the potable water problem. – File photo, Wreckhouse Press Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

On Thursday, Apr. 6, the provincial government released the new Drinking Water Safety Action Plan for Newfoundland and Labrador. The long-term plan focuses on every type of water system across the province, including semi-public and private systems and the plan identifies 37 actions targeting improvements to the management of drinking water systems in the province in infrastructure, governance, risk management, regulatory frameworks, outreach, and research and innovation.

Additionally, the following steps were listed to showcase progress that has been made in the province to improve drinking water safety. 

· A decrease in the number of Boil Water Advisories in the province, from over 350 in 2001 to below 200 since 2017.

· From 2017 to 2022, there was an average of 191 Boil Water Advisories affecting 146 communities and a population of 44,000.

· A decrease in the number of non-consumption advisories on public drinking water systems since 2013.

· On average, eight non-consumption advisories in place at any given time affecting a serviced population of approximately 440.

Even though steps forward have been made, Darrell Park, formerly with the local service district (LSD) for Margaree-Fox Roost, said the community has been under boil water advisories for over 50 years. 

“We do have access to clean drinking water. It’s just that we can’t get it in our houses. Several years ago, before I retired, the local service committee in conjunction with the provincial government, mortgaged a PWDO (Potable Water Distribution Unit) plant, and that’s in the centre of both communities. The issue we have, like most of the province, our community is very top end with elderly people and a lot of them don’t drive, so they can’t drive to the site to get the water. A lot of them, even if they could, they couldn’t carry the bottles filled with water,” said Park. 

“With so many families having their sons and daughters moved away, they’ve got no help in getting it, so they are choosing to drink the water that comes into the tap even though it makes them sick. It’s not good for the digestive system. On top of that, our water has got so much iron and manganese in it that it even stains clothes. People get angry, and I can understand why.”

Park expressed his frustration in a letter to the editor published on Mar. 27, stating that the necessary funding and assistance always seemed to be out of reach.

“I was on the local service committee for four years and the former chair was on for six years. Year after year we were beating our head against a stone wall trying to deal with the province. The purpose of the letter was to let people know that we weren’t sitting on our hands.We were doing what we could,” said Park.

“We met with our MHA (Andrew Parsons) multiple times. We met with our MP (Gudie Hutchings) at least once, and it was like they didn’t hear what we were saying, and the people, of course, we are the closest target, especially in the spring and fall when the water gets really bad. We become the targets. They can’t do anything with the provincial government, so they come after us. I wanted to tell the people we tried our best.”

Even now, the resolution seems further out of reach because there really isn’t a committee anymore.

“Right now we have no committee. Our terms all came up and no one wanted to stand again, and we couldn’t get anybody from the community, so we are basically in emergency operations now. I’m still taking care of the financial part and the chair is still taking care of the water system as it is, but we don’t offer the same services we used to and are basically trying to keep the community afloat. If we stop everything, there’s no more garbage collection first of all, and it will go back to the bad old days when people were just throwing their garbage into the ocean. Regardless of how we were feeling personally, we weren’t going to let that happen again.”

In the letter, Park stated that his father remembers not having safe drinking water coming into their homes as far back as the 1970’s.

“At that time there was no skill, so the piping they were using was inadequate. The pumping was inadequate. We had no filter system. It was basically to get the water to the houses, and it wasn’t being checked, so people were drinking this and not doing well, and it finally came down to when they first came and checked the water and it was loaded with E. coli, loaded with iron and manganese, and that’s when the process started to try to get the provincial government to lend a hand. It’s been a gong show.”

In May 2021, the federal government made an announcement about its ongoing partnership with First Nations to improve clean drinking water and lift all long-term advisories on reserves. On Feb. 3, 2023, an update stated that 138 long-term drinking water advisories were lifted since 2015, with 32 remaining in 28 communities. Another 245 short-term drinking water advisories were also prevented from becoming long-term.

Funding in the amount of $5.6 billion was committed to improve access to safe, clean drinking water in First Nations communities, something Park agrees with, but wishes the same type of assistance was offered to communities in rural NL, like Margaree-Fox Roost.

“I see these articles where they are saying that having clean drinking water to your home is a basic human right. Well, aren’t we human? What does it say about how they feel about rural Newfoundland,” asked Park. “There is a website you can go to through the province, and last time I checked there were over 200 communities that are under continuous boil water. Then they’re talking about 27 or so First Nations communities dealing with this. Some under boil water for a year, some for as many as ten years, and we’ve got communities in this province that have been under boil water advisories for 40-50 years.”

Park feels that rural NL has been largely overlooked.

“So what does that say about the government when it’s talking about rural Newfoundland? I understand we don’t have a lot of votes to give, but that doesn’t make us less deserving. What they are doing to us isn’t fair by any stretch, and I want the people of Margaree-Fox Roost to know that we didn’t sit on our hands. We were busting our butts every year, dealing with the governments to try and get this solved.”

Park said the committee worked long and hard on this issue.

“We don’t get paid. We don’t get anything, not even a tax credit like the firefighters. After a while, getting it from both ends, dealing with the government who doesn’t respect you because you’re so small that you’re not worth their effort, and you get it from the locals who said we are elected or appointed to solve this issue and you haven’t been doing it. We can only do what we can do.”

Park said that as he understood it, the community would’ve had to pay the entirety of the $3 million estimate to fully upgrade the water system, putting it well out of financial reach for such a small community, but MHA Andrew Parsons (Burgeo – LaPoile) remembers it somewhat differently.

“Water has been an issue in Fox Roost – Margaree for as long as I’ve been aware, certainly for years. What I can say is I presented the community with options a few years back on a new system, but it would’ve required an increase in their municipal contributions, their taxes, in order to have it,” offered Parsons. “At that time there was no interest expressed and I said, ‘Look, if you want to have clean, potable water, it’s going to cost money’. The province would’ve been willing to put up a fair share of that, but there was no interest expressed to me at that time or since, to fix it. Right now, people aren’t paying for water in Margaree with the exception of electricity to work the pump.”

Parsons said he went so far as to bring in staff from the Department of Municipal Affairs.

“I laid out similar operations at various communities of similar size, what the capital cost would be to put that system in and what the operation and maintenance costs would be, what people would have to pay,” added Parsons. “I’ve never had anybody on the committee, or anybody at all, come back to me and say, ‘This is something we want to move forward on’. There was no demand.”

The Departments of Environment and Climate Change and Municipal and Provincial Affairs, in response to email inquires, offered the following joint statement:

“Fox Roost – Margaree’s public water supply system has been on Boil Water Advisory since January 30, 2015 due to total coliforms detected and confirmed in repeat sample.

“The community of Fox Roost – Margaree has a Potable Water Dispensing Unit.  A Potable Water Dispensing Unit is a small-scale water treatment system that treats a portion of the water which can then be used for drinking purposes.  Water is stored on-site at a centralized location for manual collection by users. Fox Roost – Margaree’s Potable Water Dispensing Unit is tested on a regular basis for bacteriological parameters and the unit is not on boil water advisory. 

“The removal of long-term boil water advisories is a priority for the Department of Environment and Climate Change. There has been a decrease in the number of Boil Water Advisories in the province, from over 350 in 2001 to below 200 since 2017. There is a Boil Water Advisory reduction initiative that has been on-going for a number of years and Fox-Roost Margaree have been part of the Regional Operator Program since the start of the pilot program. 

“The reason for the boil water advisory is the total coliforms detected and confirmed in repeat sample. In order for the boil water advisory to be lifted, two sets of satisfactory bacteriological samples must be obtained (absence of total coliform and absence of E. coli.)  These samples are collected by Digital Government and Service Newfoundland and Labrador staff. The LSD isn’t currently chlorinating. 

“In general, there are currently 186 boil water advisories in Newfoundland and Labrador, 125 have been in place for over five years.

“There have been no applications made to the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs or discussions with the town regarding the water supply.

“Fox Roost – Margaree is a Local Service District and as such, charges fees for services provided to residents. Questions regarding fees are best directed to the LSD. It is the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs understanding that the LSD is charging $365.00 per household to provide water services which is typically a reasonable amount for providing water services; however, requirements may vary depending on the age and complexity of the system.

“Fox Roost – Margaree was approved for a water supply improvement project under ICIP in 2019. Due to challenges scoping the project to attract bids within the project budget, the community withdrew from the project.”

By Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on May 01, 2023 at 06:00

This item reprinted with permission from    Wreckhouse Weekly News    Port aux Basques, Newfoundland
Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated

Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated