ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland — The Newfoundland government released a 5-year-old report Monday that painted an alarming picture of the state of the province’s public water supplies.
Among other things, it says the incidence of waterborne diseases in Newfoundland was much higher than the national average, water-quality data was inadequate, and the province spent less on water treatment than any other jurisdiction.
But the provincial government insisted the draft report, which was never completed because of bureaucratic infighting, is riddled with errors and can’t be trusted.
Premier Roger Grimes, in a bid to reassure the public, immediately issued an updated report that says the province’s water supplies are safe.
“We should be able to assure the people of Newfoundland and Labrador that drinking water in this province is as safe, if not safer, than any other drinking water supplies in the country,” Grimes told a news conference.
Despite that firm assurance, Grimes said his government is spending $50 million over the next three years to hire more inspectors, increase the frequency of testing, and install more water treatment equipment in rural communities.
Tom Osborne, the province’s Conservative environment critic, said the new spending suggests the 1996 report is more accurate than the premier is willing to admit.
Osborne pointed to tables that showed 36 communities reported bacteria counts 80 times higher than the maximum levels recommended in water quality guidelines.
“It’s startling information,” he said Monday. “It’s frightening, especially when you look at what happened in Walkerton and North Battleford.”
The safety of Canada’s drinking water has been under the microscope since last May when seven people died in Walkerton, Ontario, after the town’s water was contaminated with a deadly strain of E. coli bacteria.