Our Pontiac Water Crisis

Do you believe your tap water is safe to drink?

This is the question of the minute on the CTV website found at www.ctvnews.com/index.html.

And, at 1:53am Tuesday morning, 71.2% of Canadians who had responded voted Yes.

I wonder how many residents of Saskatchewan would click on the “yes” button? More specifically, I wonder how many residents of beleaguered North Battleford would respond in the affirmative.

Why do I say that?

Because that city is suffering from Walkerton déjà vu.

No, it’s not e-coli that’s contaminating this Saskatchewan community’s drinking water. But it’s a nasty bug called the cryptosporidium parasite.

The CTV news site notes “Officials in the city worry that three deaths may be linked to the parasite. And they say the number of confirmed cases of infection continues to climb.”

And the province’s Premier, Lorne Calvert, “announced a sweeping inquiry Monday into a tainted water crisis in the city of North Battleford, where dozens of people have been sickened by the cryptosporidium parasite.

“The local medical officer of health reports that 44 cases of cryptosporidiosis are now confirmed. Another six people are being treated in hospital for gastroenteritis - the cramps and diarrhea that signal such infections. All of them are believed to have drunk the city’s water.”

This is alarming. My mind re-plays that old saying, “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.”

Once again, the life-sustaining resource without which no living creature can survive is discovered polluted, here in Canada.

… And allegedly killing people.

Once upon a time we would never have believed that such a thing could happen in Canada.

But it does. And you know what? Our dirty little secret here in the Pontiac is that our water is often undrinkable, too.

Sad but true: we don’t need to look across to Saskatchewan to find bad tasting, sickening “drinking water.”

When visiting the Bristol community centre to spend an evening with the Girl Guides a while ago, I thought I’d get a drink of water during our break. Think again, I thought ruefully, when I ran the tap: the water both smelled and looked foul. How I wished I’d brought a fresh bottle of my home farm water which, after testing, has been proven safe and delicious.

And did you hear the news this morning, (Tues. May 8)? Clarendon residents Gretchen Schwartz and Luc Lapointe debated the merits of the recent boil-water order in their sector of the Pontiac with CBC Radio host John Lacharity. You can bet that Clarendon council meeting, Tuesday night, will be crowded with residents asking questions concerning the Thurso pulp and paper mill effluent sludge that has been spread on some fields there. Is human waste combined in the sludge? Has it really contaminated the water supply such that well water is no longer potable? We’ll all learn more, no doubt about it.

And we don’t even need to mention Quyon’s polluted water. Folks there have been buying bottled water for years.

For years. That’s terrible! Why do we need to do that here in the Pontiac? It’s outrageous.

Isn’t it?

What’s even more outrageous that it’s “situation normal” to many families… and to many Pontiac children who have never drunk water from their own home tap. Now, with Walkerton and North Battleford in the news again - not to mention Clarendon - even more people will be buying bottled water. Just in case.

So how did all this happen? Why is it that we human beings are fouling our nest? And how come we Canadians hear our politicians discussing either selling or giving our precious water to the Americans? How is it that pure, fresh water has become a commodity on the global trade table? And when will we learn to act responsibly with the finite resources upon which we depend?

“Sustainable development” is a pretty cool buzzword… but that’s all it is. And, that’s all it ever will be if we don’t get off the pot and stop fouling our drinking water.

What are we prepared to do about it?

When will Quyon have its own water treatment facility? Thanks to Québec government politics and politicking by Chelsea, that West Québec community is likely to get the first Québec solar aquatics plant. Quyon was bypassed, don’t you know, due to … oh, well, you know why… the continuing soap opera (or soap box) antics that pass for government at the Municipality of Pontiac. Yes. That - plus the Catch-22 and non-support from Québec.

But… back to North Battleford. Saskatchewan’s Premier has done what he has to. He’s launched the inevitable inquiry into the water crisis in North Battleford. “We will want to look at all of those who have been involved - at the provincial level, municipal level, at the district health level - with the goal of finding out what has happened,” Calvert is reported as saying on the CTV website.

And last Monday, “the federal Tories and New Democrats called on the Liberals to create a law guaranteeing safe drinking water. The proposed law would call for the public to be informed as soon possible if tests fail Health Canada’s water-quality guidelines.”

It’s all about blame. Not anything really constructive on a national level to prevent the contamination of our finite resource.

But you know what? As collective outrage swirls, and as the blame-seekers search for a scapegoat, we need to take a long, thoughtful look in the mirror.

For there, right there, is the problem. It’s all of us.

None of us really care, do we? Otherwise, we wouldn’t tolerate our local politicians allowing human waste to be poured into the Ottawa River. It’s not really a laughing matter that someone downstream is drinking our waste.

So tell me, how would you answer the CTV news page question? Do you believe your tap water is safe to drink?


Katharine Fletcher is a freelance writer based north of Quyon, West Québec.