Exploring a Regional Approach to Drinking Water Management as a Potential Solution to Water Management Challenges in the Strait of Belle Isle, NL

Researchers: Dr. Kelly Vodden (PI), Vincent Chireh (Co-investigator)

Funding Agency: Leslie Harris Centre-RBC Water Research and Outreach Fund

Project Summary

Access to, quantity and quality of safe drinking water are likely to be affected by the effectiveness of the management structure responsible. Although freshwater inundates most of Canada’s landscape, about 1% of its rural population still does not have access to clean and safe drinking water partly due to challenges in current water supply management (Boyd, 2006; Adeel, 2017; Hrudey, 2008). The responsibility of control and management of water supply systems is unevenly shared among federal, provincial and municipal governments in Canada. Bereskie, Rodriguez & Sadiq (2017 p. 1) describe this present management arrangement as “fragmented, leading to governance gaps, duplication of efforts, and an absence of accountability and enforcement”. These issues are likely to affect the sustainable supply of quality drinking water to rural communities and their residents into the future.

Similarly, Newfoundland’s water management structure is fragmented, uncoordinated and lacks the ability to enforce the laws and regulations that govern public water supply systems (Minnes and Vodden, 2014). Local governments tasked with the responsibility of providing, maintaining and protecting drinking water systems under such uncoordinated management and incoherent policies affects the provision of portable drinking water to residents across the province. This is more likely to occur in rural areas overwhelmed with human and financial capacity deficiencies and population decline. However, majority of public water supply systems (77%) provide drinking water to rural populations (1500 or less people) in Newfoundland and Labrador, including The Strait of Belle Isle area within the Great Northern Peninsula region.

This research is situated in the Strait of Belle Isle, which is located within the Northern Peninsula region of NL. Half of the 22 communities in the Strait of Belle Isle have public water supply systems while residents in the remaining communities provide and manage their own water supply. The area has experienced multiple drinking water challenges, including long-term boil water advisories (with several in place for 15-20 years), high level of disinfectant by-products, failing infrastructure, and giardia outbreaks (Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, 2017). In partnership with communities in the Strait of Belle Isle, the project seeks to conduct a community-based participatory study involving case studies in and outside Newfoundland. The study will draw from multi-barrier and new regionalist themes to explore opportunities and capacities for regional approaches in the management of water supply services among communities as a potential solution to drinking water management challenges in the Strait of Belle Isle.

This research will explore prospects for a regional approach in managing drinking water where rural communities with shared needs and/or geographical proximity collaborate (e.g. through shared infrastructure, capacity building, strategic collaboration, etc.) in addressing their water management challenges. To achieve this goal, the project shall fulfill the following specific objectives:

  • Identify current water management challenges in the Strait of Belle Isle
  • Identify which aspects of drinking water systems can be delivered regionally
  • Drawing from case study examples, identify potential solutions that appear suitable and feasible given technical, geographic, socio-economic and legal/political conditions (will include an evaluation of an appropriate regional scale for such solutions, based on factors such as unique needs and geographical proximity)
  • Identify actors and processes required to pursue further analysis and implementation of these regional drinking water initiatives


The study will use a qualitative research methodology drawing data from both secondary and primary sources to achieve these objectives. The research team has already reviewed literature from peer-reviewed articles as well as grey literature in rural Canada, with a particular focus on Newfoundland and Labrador over the past two decades, to identify drinking water management challenges and effects on community water supply systems. The review reveals issues of commonality across rural Newfoundland and Labrador exacerbated by declining populations. Researchers have often recommended a regional approach to drinking water management as a potential solution to current water challenges, especially in rural areas (Hrudey, 2011; Eledi, 2016; NRTEE, 2011; Breen et al., 2015). Successful regional initiatives across Canada, including some in Newfoundland and Labrador, worth replicating in the Strait of Belle Isle region were also discovered in the literature review. There is however insignificant literature peculiar to The Strait of Belle Isle as well as the actors and processes required to implement a regional approach, especially in rural settings. The literature review therefore affirms the need for primary data collection on these topics.


Although there has been considerable research into water management systems and water governance, more research is required to explore the feasibility of regional approaches to water management especially in rural settings. There is evidence of sharing of services such as fire service and snow clearing among some communities in the Northern Peninsula region, hence the promise and need to conduct research to ascertain the viability of regionalizing water management to ensure the supply of safe and reliable drinking water in the region. This will be determined drawing from examples from other locales and their experiences together with analysis of the specific Strait of Belle Isle context.

Research results will include the current state of water supply systems in the area and potential new approaches. This will serve as a resource for policy and planning within the Strait of Belle Isle area that was hitherto insignificant or non-existence. The project will suggest potential for collaborative and sharing of aspects of water supply systems among communities based on geographical proximity or unique needs as a way of addressing water management challenges. The requisite actors and procedures needed to implement a regional-scale water service sharing will be included in the project report for communities and the provincial government for future decision making. Research results will be shared with Strait of Belle Isle communities (particularly Flowers Cove and Anchor Point as project partners), members of Municipalities NL and provincial government agencies through community meetings, workshops, and conferences.

Completed Research

Exploring a regional approach in drinking water management in the Strait of Belle Isle, Newfoundland and Labrador (Master’s thesis). Vincent Chireh, 2018.


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