Severe weather should trigger concerns about water: Corbett

Our executive director, Lois Corbett, told the CBC that the extreme weather we have been facing should be a wake-up call for our governments to better prepare to protect our water systems.

“With these extreme rains, and in the winter, ice storms, we have to almost always think – not just about the weather – but what that does to our river and our drinking-water systems,” she told CBC’s Information Morning Fredericton on Thursday.

After torrential rain on Tuesday, sewage from a wastewater plant leaked into the Fish River in Fort Kent, Maine, and may have affected the water quality in the St. John River above Edmundston.

The Aroostook Emergency Management Agency in Maine issued a public safety announcement on Tuesday, advising the New Brunswick government of potential health and safety risks. The provincial Department of Health did not alert the public about the issue until Wednesday.

Corbett was made aware of residents’ concerns after many took to social media with questions, worries and confusion about the effect of discharge on the quality of the water. She says the province could have responded more quickly with information for the public.

On Wednesday, the Department of Health said the short-term risk to the river below Edmundston was low. They advised people in Baker Brook to be careful about drinking water, and posted signs in Saint-Hilaire warning beachgoers about swimming.

Corbett believes authorities on both sides of the border acted as best they could, and it’s important not to alarm the public when unnecessary.

Incidents like this and concerns about water quality seem to be becoming the new norm, that’s why she says the province needs to keep concerns and information about water safety on the forefront, and clearly communicated with the public.

“We live in a day and age with instant communication,” she told the CBC. “[We have to] figure out what the right response is and communicate it.”

Corbett suggested the government come up with an alert system for when potentially hazardous spills occur, so the public can be in the loop and understand the situation.

“All over the world we’re suffering through extreme heat waves, raging forest fires, blue-green algae appearing in, not just in New Brunswick river systems but in northern Scandinavian lakes… climate change has kind of sent us a wake-up call.”

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