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We Used to Drink Our Water: Understanding the causes and consequences of boil water advisories in rural drinking water wells Open Access


Other title
Surface Water Infiltration
Private Drinking Water Wells
Drinking Water Quality
Water Quality Monitoring
First Nations Water
Boil Water Advisory
Samson Cree Nation
Water Quality Perceptions
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Mah, Fraser James
Supervisor and department
Davies, Evan (Water Resources Engineering)
Ulrich, Ania (Environmental Engineering)
Examining committee member and department
Stewart-Harawire, Makere (Education Policy Studies)
Liu, Yang (Environmental Engineering)
McCormack, Pat (Native Studies)
Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Environmental Engineering
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Science
Degree level
Access to safe, reliable drinking water in many First Nations in Canada lags significantly behind the access available in non-First Nations communities. This thesis explores the sources, pathways, and consequences of bacteriological contamination in drinking water wells in Samson Cree Nation. A historical data review showed that seasonal precipitation and well installation contractor are the two most significant factors that determine risk of bacteriological contamination. Contamination events are most frequent from August to October, two months after the peak in total precipitation from June to August. Well contractors typically operated over specific periods of time and wells installed by contractors operating during earlier periods were at greater risk of contamination than wells installed by more recent contractors. Isotope analysis of groundwater samples provided an indication that older, shallower wells were under greater surface water influence and greater risk of bacteriological contamination than newer, deeper wells. However, the sample size collected was not sufficient to provide a clear safe value for well depth and age based on these indicators. A survey of Samson Cree Nation residents was completed and found that distrust of their water source correlated with: increased use of bottled water for drinking, previous or current boil water advisory on the household, a higher priority on protecting Samson Cree Nation’s water rights, and a greater willingness to pay for improved drinking water servicing. Other issues identified by interviewees that impact their access to safe, reliable drinking water include: communication barriers, oil and gas activity, shock chlorinations, insufficient funding and poor management of infrastructure, and general poor quality of groundwater and water infrastructure.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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