Tom Kertes is leading the Community for Clean Water community-based organization to help bring clean water back to Prince Rupert. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)

Social media strains over Prince Rupert’s boil water notice

Resident forms Community for Clean Water, and Jennifer Rice responds to acting mayor’s comments

For the past five weeks, there’s been a war of words on social media over the boil water notice.

At the City of Prince Rupert council meeting on Jan. 14, councillor Reid Skelton-Morven addressed the participants in online commentary as “keyboard warriors” and “Facebook trolls”.

Tom Kertes was at that council meeting to learn more about the water situation.

“I saw a group of people who felt like they were under siege and they were frustrated,” he said.

Facebook is a terrible way for a community to solve problems, Kertes said, who is starting the grassroots organization — Community for Clean Water.

When the boil water notice was issued on Dec. 14, after microparasites giardia and cryptosporidium were found in the water, Kertes said there was little information coming from the city until he realized he had to be on Facebook to see posts from Mayor Lee Brain.

“That’s what made me think ‘we need to start a face-to-face organization’. And what I want to do is have people that want to solve the problem … how do we make sure everyone who needs water gets it,” he said. “This is a community-wide problem. It’s not just city council’s problem.”

His vision for Community for Clean Water is to provide clean water for everyone, even during the boil water notice. Some people, for example, have asked why the city won’t take the District of Port Edward up on their offer to truck potable water in for residents.

City communications manager, Veronika Stewart, has provided an updated frequently asked questions page on the city website that includes the answer. The city has determined that “this option presents additional health concerns with respect to the use of unsterilized containers”.

Kertes said that Stewart has been “fantastic” in responding to questions and reaching out.

“But what I think is missing is community,” he said. Kertes left Facebook a while ago, and doesn’t see social media as a good way to engage community. Before he was a teacher, he was a community organizer in Vancouver and Baltimore.

He plans to use his skills to network with unions, churches, First Nations groups and other organizations to develop long-term commitments for clean water in the city.

Rather than feed into negative comments on Facebook, he wants to maintain a constructive and solutions-focused discussion through Community for Clean Water.

For more information on how to get involved with the new grassroots organization visit communityforcleanwater.ca

READ MORE: How neighbouring North Coast villages avoided the boil water notice

North Coast MLA Rice responds

Prince Rupert’s representative in the provincial legislature also had a response to council’s presentation on the ongoing issues with water.

NDP North Coast MLA Jennifer Rice responded to acting Mayor Wade Niesh’s comments, saying that asking citizens to redirect their anger from social media to their provincial and federal representatives was “misguided”.

READ MORE: City asks residents to write MLA, MP to help with water issues

Rice noted that the boil notice has been a legitimate hardship for Prince Rupert residents, especially the elderly, the sick, families with multiple children and those with small businesses in the food service industry.

“I’m well aware of the issues, I’m boiling my water along with my fellow residents,” Rice said in an interview a few days after the general council meeting. “I certainly raised the issue as an important issue with both the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing so they are well aware of the issue.”

Rice went on to say that no one at city hall, whether elected or un-elected, had reached out to her to do more on the water boil notice other than ensure that the province had received the city’s applications for infrastructure funding. She also noted that water infrastructure falls under the purview of municipalities.

“It’s their responsibility,” Rice said.

Rice added that there are many communities in Canada that have submitted applications for funding, and with residents who have been under water boil notices for considerable lengths of time.

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