Examining drinking water security and governance for rural coastal Nova Scotia within the context of climate change
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Drinking water security, which most broadly refers to water of adequate quality and quantity, has largely been understudied within a Canadian context. This may coincide with the common misperceptions that Canada has an abundance of clean freshwater, despite documented cases that indicate otherwise. Moreover, the effects of climate change are anticipated to exacerbate the quality and quantity of water, especially in coastal regions around the world. When examining drinking water, it is important to consider the biophysical features and the human dimensions, as both have the capacity to diminish water security. However, the latter often receives less attention and focus than the former. This research presents an empirical case study on drinking water security for Nova Scotia’s tourism sector in light of climate change. More specifically, this paper explores the vulnerabilities associated with water security for private and municipal drinking water sources. The rural coastal communities of Shelburne and Queens serve as the context for this research. A participatory approach was used to gain an understanding of key issues, and involved the use of semi-structured interviews and participant observation. The results of this research reveal that many well owners are experiencing biophysical impacts (e.g. shortages, bacterial and saltwater contamination), as well as non-biophysical water issues (e.g. limited access due to power outages and water testing barriers). These issues are likely to become more problematic with climate change. This analysis also explains how these vulnerabilities have the potential to be further compounded by governance issues, such as knowledge gaps, complacent attitudes and perceptions, as they pose challenges for adaptation and capacity building. For municipal water, biophysical issues include high levels of organic matter, which makes the water not only more challenging and complex to treat, but it also demands a higher degree of knowledge and competence that may or may not exist within the water utilities. Moreover, access issues are experienced as a result of maintenance activities on aging and damaged infrastructure- often from extreme weather events, which again is anticipated to worsen with climate change. Additionally, governance issues for water utilities, such as mistrust, poor leadership, fragmented responsibilities and resource constraints, are also key contributing factors for undermining water security, as well as the ability to recruit and retain qualified staff. Recommendations to help address these vulnerabilities, and in turn enhance water security include, well owners becoming better informed, observant and proactive to help adapt to changes in their drinking water situation. For water utilities, establishing stronger partnerships with neighbouring municipalities to build capacity through knowledge sharing and transfer is key, particularly with persistent resource constraints. For the province it involves implementing ongoing evaluation of its current policies and procedures (e.g. water testing requirements) to ensure they remain relevant, effective, and equitable. Additionally, the province needs to do a better job of both supporting and monitoring its water utilities, which includes taking a stronger leadership role to help with resource constraints and capacity building efforts.