Photo Credit: Marlene Brown Photo Credit: Marlene Brown

Harrietsfield, Nova Scotia is a rural community in the Halifax Regional Municipality (“HRM”), southwest of the City of Halifax. It would take you less than twenty minutes to drive there from the Halifax downtown core if traffic were good, but despite its proximity to a vibrant, modern, and wealthy urban centre, Harrietsfield struggles with drinking water problems that have troubled its households for decades.

Like many rural residents of Nova Scotia, Harrietsfield community members depend on domestic wells for drinking water and the water they need to cook food, brush their teeth, bathe, do their laundry, and clean their homes. 

Beginning in the late 1990s, industrial practices in a residential area of the community, near several homes and a school, began to raise serious concerns about groundwater contamination. 

The story of Harrietsfield community members’ struggles to protect their drinking water from that contamination is a story that spans more than two decades and is still continuing. It is the story of a rural community that resisted becoming a sacrifice zone as the HRM worked to expand its municipal waste management facilities, and it is the story of a community that, despite its successful resistance, is now burdened with a buried “former landfill” and the perpetual risk of further contamination despite the fact that the property in question was never approved or lawfully used as a municipal landfill site.

East Coast Environmental Law has been providing legal information and advocacy support to Harrietsfield community members since late 2013. This project page highlights several important chapters in their story and will be updated as new developments arise.

Before turning to that story, it’s worth pausing for a moment to reflect that the struggle for clean drinking water in Harrietsfield did not begin with the industrial contamination that we describe in the chapters below. Harrietsfield is one of many rural communities in Nova Scotia where naturally occurring elements like arsenic and uranium affect the groundwater table and create health risks for well owners. Unlike Nova Scotians who can rely on municipal water treatment systems to make sure that the water coming out of their taps meets drinking water quality guidelines, rural residents with private wells are personally responsible for testing their water regularly and, if necessary, maintaining private water treatment systems that make their well water safe to drink. Regular well water testing is expensive, and so are private water treatment systems. In low- or moderate-income communities like Harrietsfield, the costs of well water maintenance can make it very difficult—or entirely unaffordable—for residents to feel confident that their well water is clean and safe to drink. 

Harrietsfield is not the only community in Nova Scotia that faces such challenges, and Nova Scotia needs a rural drinking water strategy to address these problems in every community that deals with them.