( This is the Melody point section of the keatsisland.net site )

Melody Point
Winning the Water Wars

A good water supply is so important in any community whether it is a city or a small island location. The politics of water - supply, delivery, purity and management are issues that are frequently discussed in the media and in community meetings. The Walkerton, Ontario water crisis which resulted in a number of deaths has raised public awareness of the need for careful monitoring of water and has emphasized for both provincial and local governments the need for the development of water purity legislation and controls.

With the clamour for water purity and the need for careful monitoring, members of island communities and particularly those members who have accepted responsibility to manage these systems are facing some new choices. Traditionally, island communities have developed water systems that have started out simply and sometimes crudely. Individual supply systems have been joined and safer and more abundant sources have been found to create systems that provide adequate water over the dry summer. However most of these systems have been owned and managed by community members with limited technical or health experience and have only sometimes been monitored for purity.

The Walkerton situation and several other contaminated water circumstances have caused most provincial governments including our own to introduce new legislation that may well end the independently controlled small community systems.

In British Columbia, the NDP government introduced a new water act that more clearly defined how communities were required to manage their water systems and how they were required to deal with any impurities.This act was passed butnot proclaimed. The Liberal government is reviewing this legislation and some suggest they will make it more stringent. It is expected that the Liberals new Water Act will be in effect within a year.

The key changes in the new act will be to raise standards for purity and to increase government supervision particularly of the many unsupervised small systems that have quietly functioned on their own. Typically, these systems will come under the supervision of a regional district’s health department. There will likely be a hardening of standards both in terms of the design of the systems and the response to any contamination. A key fear of those involved in managing these systems that they would have to be rebuilt to meet “city” standards appears to not be an issue but they may have to be modified to improve safety.

Again, in light of the Walkerton situation, an issue has arisen that for most islanders has not really been considered in the past, that is, liability for illness or even death caused by impure water. Generally there has been a denial response to the possibility of serious illness and even if that did occur that legal action could result. From what has occurred elsewhere in Canada, both position appear naïve. There seems to now be some question as to who would be held legally responsible for illness cause by impure water: the community, the management employees or volunteers or the individual homeowner. In a community run and supervised system, all parties need to consider their vulnerability to legal action.

However in a provincially supervised water system the legislation sets the legal standards for monitoring and for healthy water and, assuming these standards are being met by the community system, the provincial government becomes liable in most situations. According to our legal advice, the best protection from the liability that might exist is to come under the supervision of the local health board. However, to achieve this protection, each community must work with the health officer to find ways to meet the standards established by legislation.

A further option to reduce liability especially when there are difficult to remove contaminates in the water is through a community agreement to disclaim liability for the water if it is used for drinking. Following a clear statement of any unhealthy contaminates found through testing, the community disclaims responsibility for the use of the water for drinking. Your members then accept the risks in using the water for drinking and thereby accept the responsibility to purchase the equipment that is required to overcome any health problems for their own building or choose to use bottled water for drinking. There are problems regarding non-consenting visitor and children. Obviously, it is important to seek legal advice before attempting this procedure.

One such pollutant that affects most water in our area is arsenic. As a dissolved element, it cannot be removed by filtering and must be removed through a chemical or electronic process which is typically more difficult and expensive than filtering. The old limit for arsenic was .25 ppm which, for many communities whose test readings were fairly close to that, was seen to be tolerable. However medical research and pressure from insurers has established a new international standard of .10 ppm. Where a community may have tolerated arsenic levels that might be reasonably close to the old standard, the new one creates both health and liability issues for many small systems.

We hope that the above may encourage discussion in communities and where needed action plans. We also hope that you will respond with any useful experience or ideas that can be passed on to other Keats Islander as they consider their own direction.


Keats 911 Contact InfoHistoryIsland LinksMaps and PhotosTidelinesCommercial Services

©Copyright Keats Island