Interior Health Drinking Water Safety Project
In Canada, water is protected through the The Drinking Water Protection Act and the Drinking Water Protection Regulation. Keeping drinking water safe in B.C. is a shared responsibility between government and water system owners and operators. While legislation and regulation is applied and enforced by the regional health authorities and drinking water officers, water system owners and operators provide safe drinking water and notify the public and drinking water officers about water quality problems.
The Interior Health region is home to over 1,900 water suppliers ranging in size from small (less than 300 connections) to large (301 to 10,000 connections). On average, on any given day, 500 water suppliers are on a drinking water advisory in the Interior Health region, whether it be a water quality advisory, a boil water notice, a do not consume notice, or a do not use notice.
While the safety of drinking water is critically important to ensuring the health of communities, Interior Health identified a lack of public understanding about where the region’s water comes from, how water is treated, who treats it, and how it is delivered to people’s homes. This lack of understanding contributes to a lack of public support for water suppliers; particularly when it comes to suppliers increasing water rates, or seeking funding to make necessary infrastructure upgrades in order to bring their water systems into compliance with health protection standards.
In order to educate the public about the importance of safe drinking water, Interior Health hired Be the Change Group to develop and launch a long-term communications engagement strategy to accompany the release of the Office of the Medical Health Officer report into the status of drinking water within Interior Health. The communications engagement strategy would provide water suppliers/operators, municipalities, and Environmental Health Officers with materials and information to educate the public about their water supply, and empower municipalities and water suppliers to continue to engage with and inform their water users.
Since this initial engagement in 2017, our work with the Interior Health Drinking Water Program has included a comprehensive community engagement in advance of the 2017 Medical Health Officer Drinking Water Report, the development of educational videos, and the development and successful launch of the drinkingwaterforeveryone.ca microsite and Drinking Water Advisory Map, continued website support and development, and the roll-out of a communications strategy for promoting the map to regional districts and municipalities in the Interior Health region, as well as exploring ways to work with First Nations communities.
Our discovery process
We conducted key informant interviews, an online survey, and focus groups in all areas of the Interior Health region to produce a comprehensive report on how Interior Health can best provide water suppliers with communications materials and methods to best bridge the gap between the public, water suppliers/operators, and the Interior Health Drinking Water Program.
While this fostered conversation, raised awareness about safe drinking water in the Interior Health region, and engaged all stakeholders in the process, Interior Health re-engaged our team to continue to build on the successes to date by developing and carrying out a sustainable, consistent, and clear annual communications strategy and plan to promote the site and map.
In this strategy, we reached out to municipalities, regional districts, and First Nations stakeholders to continue the conversation and further disseminate the map. To date, 15 municipalities, and three regional districts in the Interior Health region have posted the advisory map on their websites, with this number continuing to grow. In addition, conversations regarding partnerships with First Nations communities continue to be explored. The roll-out of the communications plan also elicited feedback from website users, and this feedback has resulted in improvements to the website.
To develop the educational videos, we worked with the Interior Health Drinking Water team to generate educational and accessible video scripts and produce three videos to address some of the misconceptions we discovered in the discovery phase. The videos showcase water suppliers and operators, and public health officials from around the Interior Health region, and included original animation in addition to videography.