Nova Scotia

Extremely dry conditions lead to Chester water woes

Homes and businesses in the seaside village of 1,200 rely on wells, cisterns and, in some cases water tanker deliveries.

Homes and businesses rely on wells, cisterns and, in some cases, water tanker deliveries

Chester's village commission is to meet Wednesday night to discuss whether to order a study to pin down the cost per ratepayer of building a municipal water supply. (CBC)

Nova Scotia's tinder dry summer has lead to an unusually high number of dry wells in Chester, N.S., reigniting the debate over whether it's time to bring a municipal water supply into the seaside village of 1,200.

Homes and businesses there rely on wells, cisterns and, in some cases water tanker deliveries.

"There's never been a formal study done that puts a specific price on having it done," says Ray Cambria, chair of the village commission.

The commission is to meet Wednesday night to discuss whether to order a study to pin down the cost per ratepayer of building a municipal water supply. 

Emergency tanker deliveries

The issue hit home at the Chester Playhouse during a performance Saturday night when the theatre's well and two cisterns ran dry. It was the second time this summer the well ran dry.

"The impact is we don't have water supply here in the building for our staff or our patrons," said Alanna Swinemar, operations manager.

"As a public facility it impacts washrooms and things like that. We don't have water to run it. Thankfully, our performers and audience were very understanding of our plight."

The solution was an unbudgeted $300 dollar water delivery Monday morning.

"I was very happy to see the tanker arrive," Swinemar said.

Nova Scotia's oldest pub goes dry

Water tanker deliveries are the norm at the Fo'c'sle Tavern.

The Fo'c'sle dates back to 1764 and bills itself as Nova Scotia's oldest pub. Bob Youden, the pub's owner, says he spends $11,000 a year on water and says the problem is getting more acute with wells running dry earlier in the year and staying dry longer.

His most recent tanker delivery was Tuesday afternoon, on the eve of Chester Race Week, an annual event that attracts scores of sailors to the village.

The owner of the Fo'c'sle pub says Chester should have a municipal water supply. (CBC)

Youden is leading the lobby to bring municipal water into Chester, which he says is the highest density community in the province without a municipal system.

"It's incomprehensible to be standing here in 2016 having to talk about putting in a municipal water supply. From where I'm standing I can point you to 11 structures, within visual distance, that have no water," said Youden.

Municipal water debate

But the Municipality of the District of Chester has not put the project on its infrastructure priority list, even though it has secured a potential water supply in Spectacle Lake, three kilometres outside Chester.

Warden Allen Webber says there's simply not enough support within the village to justify the cost, which was estimated five years ago at $13 million.

"It's a big project and you need to know that there are sufficient number of people who need water and are prepared to pay for water before you can move forward,' Webber said.

Webber says a 2014 survey on the cost of delivering municipal water to 25 downtown homes and businesses estimated the ongoing cost at $5,200 a year.

"We just didn't find the support," said Webber.

'No plan'

The village makes up just one of the Municipality of the District of Chester's seven electoral districts. Bob Youden accuses the district of ignoring the problem. 

"There's no plan to do anything," Youden said.

The village commission of Chester is the junior municipal level of government in the area. It is trying to convert the anecdotal evidence of serious water shortages into hard data on costs. That's why it's looking at a feasibility study.

"If you ask them if they want a municipal water supply, that is the first thing they want to know: 'How much is it going to cost me on my taxes?" Cambria, the commission chair, said. "Numbers are being tossed around may or may not be reality."

Another complicating factor is that one home may have a water problem while a neighbour may not. Chester is also home to seasonal summer residents who may not want to bear the cost paying for a year-round solution.

"There's a lot of issues," said Cambria.

Water frugality 

As a long-time Chester resident, water frugality is a way of life for art gallery operator and potter Paula MacDonald. 

"That's a rain barrel which collects water off that roof," MacDonald said. 

MacDonald uses a 3,785-litre cistern under the building that collects rainwater from the main roof as a way to conserve water.

MacDonald said the water shortage this year is worse than usual, with a lot of wells going dry for the first time.

"I've heard of a lot of wells all over town going dry, including the Kiwi restaurant across the street, which has never gone dry before," she said.

The Kiwi Café did not respond to a request for comment.


Paul Withers


Paul Withers is an award-winning journalist whose career started in the 1970s as a cartoonist. He has been covering Nova Scotia politics for more than 20 years.