The head of Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador is calling for action on what he said is a needed fix to many of the province's town water supplies before someone gets sick.

Craig Pollett's comments flow from the findings of a new study on rural drinking water from Memorial University's Harris Research Centre.

"I think the opportunity is definitely there for people to get sick from drinking water that's not managed properly," Pollett told CBC News.

A focus on small town challenges

The 92-page report, Exploring Solutions for Sustainable Rural Drinking Water Systems, focused on communities of 1,000 residents or less, and the challenges that these small communities face when trying to maintain their water systems.

The report found that "the state of drinking water systems in rural Newfoundland and Labrador is varied," and that despite local community administrators reporting high drinking water quality, there was still "considerable concerns for drinking water systems in rural NL."

Two surveys provided 

keep-water-clean-gambo

Another photo in the report is this handmade sign, located near a roadside spring in Gambo. (The Harris Centre)

Among the methods used to gather information were two surveys, one given to community administrators, the other to water operators.

From those results, it was found that there was concern over a “lack of funds to make necessary repairs or upgrades” as an issue facing drinking water systems.

The report also said it uncovered a concern about what it called "high disinfectant by-products," and what happens when those by-products react with organic material in a pond or lake. The report noted a possible link between long-term exposure to these by-products with certain cancers of the liver, kidneys, bladder and colon.

It was also noted that the use of either too little or too much chlorine in water systems was a concern among those surveyed, as well as the prevalence of long-term boil water advisories.

Other findings in the report regarding why some boil water advisories were in effect included:

  • 43 of the province's water supplies had no disinfection system
  • 40 of the province's water supplies had their disinfection system off due to maintenance or repairs
  • 11 of the province's water supplies had their chlorination systems turned off by operator, due to lack of funds to operate

People turning to 'roadside springs'

The report noted that while its "primary research related to public perceptions was not a focus, case studies and consultations demonstrate that [boil water advisories] and [disinfectant by-products] concerns along with a distaste for chlorinated and/or discoloured drinking water, encourages some residents to turn to untreated water sources such as roadside springs."

'I think the opportunity is definitely there for people to get sick from drinking water that's not managed properly.' - `Craig Pollett, Municipalities NL

"It surprises me that we haven't had more public health concern about this sort of thing — and we've been talking about it for quite a long time," said Pollett.

Pollett said Municipalities NL has been trying to call attention to water problems for years, and he`s glad an outside organization has validated some of the organization`s concerns.

You can read the full report here.