Governments wake up after North Battleford
May 15, 2001
By Canadian Consulting Engineer
The Saskatchewan Government has called a judicial inquiry following the breakdown of the public water supply system...
The Saskatchewan Government has called a judicial inquiry following the breakdown of the public water supply system in North Battleford in April. Justice Robert D. Laing will be looking into the cause of the water contamination that is believed to have resulted in hundreds of people falling ill when the parasite cryptosporidium entered the system. A boil water advisory was in effect for weeks after the problem occurred.
Initial reports suggest that North Battleford’s water supply had been susceptible to problems for some time, due to inadequate filtering, infestation and poor chlorination. As well, the city’s sewage treatment plant was apparently releasing untreated sewage from time to time into the North Saskatchewan River two kilometres upstream from the city’s intake pipe. There are plans to replace the plant, but not till 2003. One former resident of the city, who now lives in Toronto, told CCE, “We knew for years not to drink the water in North Battleford.”
The problem is not confined to North Battleford. A report in the Regina Leader Post said that the provincial government had known for nine years that 120 other communities had deficient water supplies, but had been told not to criticize the infrastructure.
Hard on the heels of the North Battleford crisis, the federal and provincial governments announced an investment of $19.4 million for 74 infrastructure projects, including 33 water treatment plant upgrades and 15 wastewater treatment plant projects. These initiatives come under the Canada-Saskatchewan Infrastructure Program and require municipalities to pay one-third of the cost. Lorne Culvert, the Saskatchewan premier, was also calling for “pan-Canadian set of enforceable drinking standards.”
After two chronic water supply failures — first in Walkerton, Ontario, and now in North Battleford — governments are beginning to sit up and take notice of calls for tighter regulation and more investment in water infrastructure. A public inquiry in Ontario is currently looking into the contribution that provincial government policies had on the Walkerton disaster, and in April the British Columbia government tabled legislation to tighten its drinking water regulations and put a new network of health officials in charge.
This water-rich country is a long way from ensuring its citizens have a pristine water supply. In Manitoba during the recent flooding, for example, people who rely on groundwater and wells were advised to boil their water, and in Newfoundland 257 of 618 communities regularly have to boil their drinking water. Meanwhile, the Montreal Urban Community sewage plant in Riviere des Prairies has won the dubious distinction of being named the fifth worst toxic polluter in Canada.