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Water woes in Fogo

“Water, water everywhere Nor any drop to drink” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)   Dear Editor, Coleridge’s words in his poem Rime of the Ancient Mariner written nearly 200 years ago are still very relevant today here on Fogo Island if you are a user of the water system in Fogo. Water here is plentifully scarce and if you can pardon the contradiction plentiful scarce aptly describes Fogo’s current relationship with good drinking water. Fogo has always had issues with water, especially drinking water. Some parts of the town were a little more fortunate than others, in that clean drinking water was sometimes a little more readily available. During hot, dry weather fresh water was always a scarce commodity everywhere. In days of ‘yore’ or the ‘old days’ all water was bucketed; water for drinking, slopping, washing etc.  Water for everything came via a birch water hoop and two galvanized buckets. Carrying or ‘spelling’ water was nearly a full time job for at least one family member. A few years back when a young Fogo Island student asked Mr. Anthony Burke, a wise and witty teacher, how do you spell water Anthony replied I-N B-U-C-K-E-T-S, I-N B-U-C-K-E-T-S. He was right! Even though ‘bringing water’ with a hoop and two galvanized buckets was a pain in the derriere, at least residents did, on occasion, have access to clean drinking water. Yes, there was also a ‘slop water’ category from slop wells and rainwater for the local gardens. As time passed deep wells and electric pumps made running, or ‘piped’ water available … for some. Those wells were expensive to drill, pumps broke down frequently and many wells were salty. Of course the latter is the price we paid for living so near the seashore. As years slipped by and a new focus on personal hygiene developed, health concerns prompted a greater demand for good, accessible water. This demand gave rise to municipal or town water systems along with their sidekicks, municipal sewer systems. Fogo, during the 1980s elbowed its way forward and accessed one such system. It took some time to install; however, finally water became available to all residents. From the start the quality of this water was an issue since it was piped from a silt bottom pond. Yet, with some screening, close monitoring and good maintenance, things were relatively acceptable. It sure beat two galvanized buckets and a birch water hoop! However, the need for a filtration system was evident very early, and the hope was that Fogo could one day afford one.

As time passed and the much needed filtration system did not materialize things began to unravel. In the year 2012 it reached a near crisis level. Fogo’s water is now excessively brown, loaded with silt and yo-yo’d with chlorine. Boil orders are now nearly a daily occurrence, while in former years they were infrequent, occurring mainly during hot, dry weather. Bathtubs and sinks are now ringed with brown residue after usage, and currently a shower in Fogo is a near equivalent to a ‘sand blasting’ because of the silt load in the water. We could now extend Coleridge’s words even further and say ‘silt and gravel everywhere and little hope in sight.’

The question now is what must be done to correct the problem? Putting in place boil orders, though necessary, is not a long-term solution, and neither is drastically reducing tax levels so that we lack the funds to maintain and upgrade. We need council to engage expert advice regarding the problem and its solution. We need council to fund and install a filtration system in the short term.

In the meantime, we need a thorough preventative maintenance program in place with properly trained and in-serviced staff. We need to know why chlorine levels fluctuate so wildly, why water flow rates are not consistent. We need to know why boil orders are constantly in place, and why sewage lift stations are constantly being worked on instead of being ‘fixed.’ Most importantly the Department of Health needs to explain to our people the possible risks from all the discoloration, the silt and the mud that daily flows from our taps and over our food.

In closing let me state clearly that the whole purpose for creating a new Island wide council on Fogo Island was to pool our resources and create capacity to access government funds to confront and solve problems like the one just described; and it’s not just the Fogo water system. Why is there no concerted and strong lobby being made to obtain running water for Barr’d

Islands with a water source just a few feet away? And why in 2013 should a large town like Joe Batt’s Arm have gravel roads filled with potholes and with no relief in sight? Why isn’t there a strong public lobby to get these roads paved? Eventually other water systems could end up like Fogo’s and what is being done to head off such a problem? Crisis management is not enough. It is doubly hard to understand when we see taxes slashed, a large unneeded expansion in council staff, as well as an unneeded new investments in vehicles and other equipment. Why, after nearly two years, has there been no real capital works program on Fogo Island? The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador is now much better off financially than it was during the 1980’s and 1990’s when water systems and roads were built. It’s foolish to just say Government has no money. I say council has no push, no get up and go to obtain such funding. If this mind set continues to prevail many of us soon will be back with galvanized water buckets and birch hoops.


Thank you,

Edmund Walbourne



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