Cape Breton Post
Six boil water advisories currently in effect
SYDNEY — Cape Bretoners watching the blue-green algae bloom in Grand Lake in the Halifax area may be turning their attention to potential issues here.
Right now, there are six individual boil water advisories in effect on the island, all of them individual, rather than municipal.
Three are in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, one is in Inverness County and two are in Victoria County. All were put in place following positive tests for total coliform.
“We require two consecutive water samples, separated by a minimum of 24 hours, without the presence of coliform bacteria in order to lift the boil water advisories,” said Rachel Boomer, spokesperson at the provincial Department of Environment.
“The province has supplied the schools listed here with clean, bottled drinking water all year.”
Burton's Sunset Oasis Motel in Bay St. Lawrence is currently awaiting the second of two water samples testing negative, along with Two Rivers Wildlife Park in Huntington. The rest are awaiting the results of both water samples.
WHAT IS COLIFORM?
Boil water advisories are put in place when sampling and testing detects higher than accepted amounts of coliform bacteria, or if there are deficiencies in chlorination or other types of disinfection, according to the province.
“Total coliforms are a group of bacteria found in soil and in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, including humans. E. coli are found only in the intestines of humans and other warmblooded animals,” according to a Nova Scotia Environment news release.
The province recommends testing water for total coliforms and E. coli every six months.
“Our activities are what primarily contaminate the water,” said Dr. Ken Oakes, an associate professor in biology at Cape Breton University and long-term collaborator on water research with Dr. Shine (Xu) Zhang, who is the Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in healthy environments and communities and the Industrial Research Chair in applied nanotechnology.
Zhang said most boil water advisories in Canada are largely precautionary, often caused by system maintenance or a drop in pressure.
“CBRM (has) really spent efforts to protect (its) source water,” said Zhang.
The professors said most of
Cape Breton's source water is surface water, such as lakes and rivers, and groundwater, such as wells. Many Cape Breton households have private wells that they draw from, which municipalities are not responsible for testing regularly.
“In Cape Breton, we have very low population densities,” Oakes said. “Much of (our) water comes from surface water, which is great because there's lots of it around — but it's subject to contamination.”
PROTECTING SOURCE WATER
Oakes said industrial and agricultural activities are big factors for contaminating source water, as well as municipal wastewater treatment plants.
“Even in remote areas, things like beavers can come by or ducks can land, and their fecal material can carry a protozoan parasite called giardia, and that gives you diarrhea for about three months,” said Oakes.
“So, we really want to be careful protecting the surface water sources. We can use all kinds of fancy technologies and treatments to make (our water) better, but the first thing to do is to make sure it doesn't get contaminated in the first place.”
Blue-green algae thrive in certain environments, Oakes said.
“Blue green algae really do well when there's a lot of artificial eutrophication, which is a fancy name for having nutrients that are added artificially, either from agricultural runoff or very often from municipal wastewater discharges.
“That can be from a centralized facility like a sewage treatment plant, or it could be from septic tanks that aren't working properly.”
He said the best preventative measure is protecting our source water, including by ensuring that conditions are never right for blue-green algae to dominate.
A few ways of doing this include using phosphate-free detergents, avoiding the use of fertilizers on lawns and keeping waterfront shorelines natural (by not removing natural vegetation).
“The risk (of blue-green algae blooms in Cape Breton) is not very high,” Zhang said.
To see the full list of boil water advisories in Nova Scotia and how long they have been in place, see Nova Scotia Environment's list online — novascotia.ca/nse/water/ docs/IndividualBoilAdvisories.pdf.