A water shortage in one community is causing locals to struggle to keep their children bathed, their clothes clean and even drink water from their own tap.
Susan and Shawn Traverse own their home along Route 70 in the town of some 700 people – half of whom are seasonal residents. Every household is serviced by one of several wells in the community, one of which services over 100 homes, town officials told The Compass last week.
The well, which services the Traverse’s home, services 26 houses — about half are seasonal residents — a church and a community centre. But the Traverse family says they have never been “serviced” on the well, at least not consistently.
The couple purchased their dark grey bungalow in March 2008. At the time, they were aware there was a permanent boil order in effect. Soon, it was revealed the well water had a high concentration of the element arsenic.
The provincial Department of Environment and Conservation defines arsenic as, “a well-known poisonous substance and is classed as being carcinogenic to humans.”
In 2010, the arsenic issue appeared to be over after installing a filter, but there was still trouble with water access.
“We would lose our water all the time, at any point during the day it could just be gone,” Susan said. “Without any warning it would just keep getting shut off.
After a while, the water became more and more scarce —even after the well was dug deeper — until finally it started getting turned off every night.
“We couldn’t even flush our toilet during Christmas,” Susan said. “It was embarrassing.”
“We have to pick and choose what laundry can be washed and what can wait. It’s just piling up.”
Susan noted when the water was turned back on, the pressure in the copper pipes in her home caused very loud banging, until she couldn’t take it anymore.
The couple spent hundreds of dollars replacing the copper pipe with plastic pipe, just to stop the noise.
“The banging was gone, but we still had no water,” said Susan.
Town officials confirmed the situation was caused by lack of water in the well, and the only means to conserve it was to limit the amount of water that was being used.
Every evening the water would be turned off, and in the early morning a town employee would check the levels to see if he could turn it back on.
Zero consumption policy
Earlier this year the water was deemed unfit for consumption, so a zero consumption policy was put in place.
Susan explained that the arsenic levels had gone up again, and were higher than government standards allowed.
Town officials confirmed seasonal residents who were on that well did not visit the area as much as in the past.
Residents of the area were borrowing water from neighbours and consistently purchasing bottled water.
Susan’s son Alex, who is in Grade 1, understands the dangers of drinking the water. She said he was in his small, child-sized pool this past summer — which took four days to fill up — and told a friend not to drink the water because it was “poison.”
“What could I say? It was true,” she explained.
The town invested some $13,000 into a new filtration system on the well, and the water was fit to use again. But there is still a boil order in effect.
Mayor Ernest Gosney is new to the municipal political scene, but dove in headfirst when he heard about the water situation.
“Water should be a priority,” he told The Compass during a phone interview Nov. 6. “But it looks like that well may be going dry.”
Susan and her husband have informed the town they will no longer pay their municipal fees because of lack of water service, and Gosney does not object.
“The residents have every right to protest,” he said. “The fees are supposed to cover services, and they are not receiving these services.”
The town only has a limited supply of money, so they depend on capital works funding at a cost share of 90 per cent by the provincial government and 10 per cent by the town.
“We have applied for capital works for water in the past,” town clerk Dana Fagan said. “We will keep applying.
“All wells are at capacity and we cannot reroute to another well.”
But what options does the town have?
“We could start (digging a new well) immediately if we get funding,” Gosney explained. “We could try to borrow, but we may have to jack up taxes. We don’t want to have to do that.”
Gosney said the only other option is to wait for the town to get approved for capital works grants, which is not guaranteed. If they do get approved, work cannot begin until spring when funding becomes available.
“It’s frustrating for the town, it’s frustrating for the households affected,” Gosney concluded.
“It’s time for something to be done,” Susan stated. “We can’t keep living like this.”