British Columbia

Social media tensions boil over in Prince Rupert water advisory row

An update on the ongoing boil water advisory in Prince Rupert dominated the first city council meeting of 2019, but a citizen advocate group says the focus was on shutting down social media discussion, rather than offering short-term solutions.

City asks for support not online criticism as boil water advisory enters Week 5

Town of Morris was issued a boil water advisory this week. (CBC)

An update on the ongoing boil water advisory in Prince Rupert dominated the first city council meeting of 2019, but a citizen advocate group is criticizing council for using the meeting to shut down discussion of the problem.

Tom Kertes of the local group, Community for Clean Water, attended the meeting.

He said city council's focus was on people posting complaints on social media and not on short-term solutions. 

"This was city council on the attack for people being critics," he told Carolina de Ryk host of CBC's Daybreak North.

Boil water advisory in Week 5

The City of Prince Rupert is in the fifth week of a boil water advisory. In mid-December, water tests revealed higher levels of cryptosporidium and giardia, parasites that cause gastrointestinal distress and fever.

Local residents have taken to social media to vent their frustrations and call for more action from city council.

Coun. Wade Niesh presented an update on the advisory at the Jan. 14 council meeting.

He opened by addressing members of the public. 

"There are some people in the audience, not a lot. I was expecting more pitchforks," he said.

Social media tensions

Niesh said that he had read every angry comment posted on Facebook over the last five weeks, but he had not received any direct phone calls and only one email on the subject to his city email account.

"This is not something that Facebook will solve for us," he said.

Coun. Reid Skelton-Morven referred to some social media users as "keyboard warriors" and "Facebook trolls that have just moved here."

Kertes said that instead of calling out newcomers or social media users, the meeting should have been used to discuss immediate solutions for vulnerable people or those who don't have the capacity to boil large quantities of water.

"They were angry at people in the city for speaking out about this issue," he said.

Federal funding needed

The City of Prince Rupert has applied for federal funding to pay for upgrades to its water system. It estimates it will need around $30 million to complete the necessary work.

During the meeting, councillors called for residents to get off Facebook and instead write to their provincial and federal representatives to ask for financial support. 

"We wish the public would help us in this situation."

The city released a list of frequently asked questions this week to advise residents living under the boil water advisory.



With files from Daybreak North