PWDUs during COVID-19

Rural and remote communities across Canada often struggle to access clean, reliable, sufficient drinking water. In particular, rural communities face unique burdens associated with obtaining and maintaining proper infrastructure to ensure adequate water quality and quantity. In 2019, the majority (>80%) of boil water advisories issued in Canada were in rural communities, with over twice as many First Nations communities affected than non-First Nations communities. These burdens can be further exacerbated amid a global pandemic when reliable, clean water is essential to practice proper sanitization protocols, such as washing your hands for a minimum of 20 seconds. Access to clean, reliable water supplies are essential for maintaining health, managing diseases, and keeping up with appropriate hygiene.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, a growing number of rural communities have moved to using potable water dispensing units (PWDUs) as a way to provide treated water to individuals; however, during the pandemic, several communities have reached out to the Municipalities Newfoundland and Labrador (MNL) expressing concerns about maintenance, operation, and sanitization. Due to these concerns, MNL, NunatuKavut Community Council (NCC), and researchers have been working together with PWDU communities to better understand their experiences and challenges.

Researchers Dr. Kelly Vodden (Memorial University) and Dr. Sarah Minnes (University of Guelph) assembled a research team to address the issues associated with PWDUs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their research aims to inform PWDU practices, expose gaps in the system, and further address issues of accessible water quality and quantity in rural communities across Canada. Thus far, the research team has released a report titled “Challenges with rural drinking water infrastructure operations and maintenance in rural Newfoundland and Labrador during COVID-19” (Minnes et al., 2020) for the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation (CRRF) and presented their research – Rural Drinking Water – at the CRRF Virtual Conference for Supporting Rural Recovery & Resilience (Deatra Walsh and Amy Hudson). In the upcoming week, Dr. Minnes and Dr. Vodden will be presenting their work at the MNL Annual Conference. Their research will continue to identify safe operating procedures and ensure knowledge mobilization between communities and their municipalities.