Government and Community Responses to Drinking Water Challenges and Crises in Rural Newfoundland and Labrador

Lay Summary 

This study investigated government and community understandings of and responses to water crises in three rural communities in Newfoundland and Labrador- Flat Bay, Black Tickle, Labrador and Steady Brook with the first two being Indigenous communities. Using a qualitative approach, we interviewed community leaders, volunteer water operators, and provincial government officials. The study made use of two different interview schedules to elicit the required responses using primarily close- and open ended questions to establish how the rural communities and government departments understand and respond to water crisis.

The study reveals that the term "water crisis" is defined differently by each community and shaped by specific experiences of water insecurity. For instance, in Black Tickle and Flat Bay, a water crisis means complete loss of access to potable water, sometimes lasting for weeks; such a crisis results in reduced drinking water consumption and the consumption of possibly contaminated water from unmonitored water sources like springs. Steady Brook's water crisis consisted of recurrent and prolonged boil water advisories leading to reduced water consumption and the consumption of possibly contaminated water. Further, the communities define water crisis in term of the effects of such a crisis. Community definitions contrast with the provincial government's restrictive definition which relates to source water issues.

The study establishes that each of the communities has experienced water crises relating to contamination, infrastructure, water shortages, and/or weather. Inadequate resourcing leading limited local capacities and aging infrastructure are the major challenges that hinder the communities' effective response to drinking water crises. Government's decentralization approach to water policy has resulted in local communities being responsible for the management of drinking water systems; this is problematic and inappropriate for rural communities. Proposed long-term solutions include broader definitions of the term water crisis; development of a comprehensive provincial wide water management plan; the creation of community- or region-specific water emergency preparedness plans; the provision of adequate financial resources and consultation and participation of communities through the establishment of multi-level water management committees.

The study concluded by noting that the provision of potable water is a right and should be guaranteed by senior governments through the necessary resource allocations. Access to water has a strong relationship with other basic needs and as such, should be supported.

Environmental Policy Institute
Harris Centre - RBC Water Research And Outreach Fund
Flat Bay
Black Tickle
Steady Brook
Newfoundland and Labrador
Aboriginal Peoples
Water quality
Water Resources
Start date 
1 Jun 2015
End date 
1 Jun 2016