Inverness's foul-tasting, discoloured water blamed on increased demand

Two new golf courses in Inverness, Cape Breton, have brought more tourists, more jobs and more demand for water. The town's existing system has not been able to keep up and that's meant intermittent brown and foul-tasting water.

Town's water treatment system not equipped to handle population it's now serving

People in Inverness, Cape Breton say they are afraid to drink their water even though they've been told it's safe. (Leanne MacKinnon)

People in Inverness, N.S., say it's been a bad summer for water. Turn on the taps and what comes out is frequently discoloured and tastes bad.

"It's still safe to drink. It's just not palatable," said county Coun. Jim Mustard. 

The town's water treatment system wasn't built to handle the population it's now serving — particularly in the summer, said Mustard. And as demand grows, water quality drops.

Inverness council to decide treatment for hard water

A big part of that demand comes from two golf courses and their accommodations, built in 2011 and 2016. As well, said Mustard, people are moving back home.

"We have about 36 or 40 lots all ready to go with services there. We just extended sewer services down Maple Road to open up a bunch more lots, so yeah, we got growth."

'It's poison'

Anna MacKinnon, an 84-year-old resident, says she's paying $98 every three months for water and can't use it.

"It's poison," MacKinnon said. "During the summer and over the last year, the water was disgraceful. It was like you dug it out of a puddle." 

84-year-old Anna MacKinnon says she pays $98 every three months for water and she can't use it. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

Claire Brennan at Mill Road Social Enterprises says the problem has become very expensive for her non-profit.

Mill Road is a bakery and used clothing store that helps adults with diverse abilities learn vocational and social skills.

"It costs thousands because you have to buy water. You have to buy filtration systems. You have to replace your hot water tanks and on top of all that, you have a water bill."

Brennan said Mill Road Social Enterprises replaces the hot water tank every year because the coils burn out. 

"It's very frustrating," she said. "You open the taps and it's brown. You smell chlorine. You smell something else that's foul. And then you run in to a store to buy jugs of water."

County working on a solution

Mustard said a short-term fix is underway. Four sand filters have been installed at the well head, tanks are being vacuumed and the water lines will be flushed.

As for the long term, Mustard said, "because Inverness is growing at a pretty amazing rate," county council is looking at finding a new well source.

A test well will be dug this fall, and if all goes well, Mustard hopes it will be in production by next summer.

About the Author

Joan Weeks


Joan Weeks has been a reporter with CBC in Sydney for over a decade. Many of her stories are investigative with a focus on government spending and accountability, as well as health and economic issues important to Cape Breton.

with files from Gary Mansfield