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Journal of Water and Health Vol 12 No 3 pp 584–595 © IWA Publishing 2014 doi:10.2166/wh.2014.126

Microbial water quality communication: public and practitioner insights from British Columbia, Canada

G. Dunn, N. Henrich, B. Holmes, L. Harris and N. Prystajecky

Program on Water Governance, University of British Columbia, 439-2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4 Canada E-mail: gemma.dunn@ubc.ca
Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences, 588-1081 Burrard Street St. Paul's Hospital, Vancouver, BC, V6Z 1Y6, Canada
School of Population and Public Health, University of British Columbia, 2206 East Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z3, Canada
Institute of Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, 439-2202 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z4, Canada
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of British Columbia, G227-2211 Wesbrook Mall Vancouver, Vancouver, BC, V6T 2B5, Canada


This work examines the communication interactions of water suppliers and health authorities with the general public regarding microbial source water quality for recreational and drinking water. We compare current approaches to risk communication observable in British Columbia (BC), Canada, with best practices derived from the communications literature, finding significant gaps between theory and practice. By considering public views and government practices together, we identify key disconnects, leading to the conclusion that at present, neither the public's needs nor public health officials' goals are being met. We find: (1) there is a general lack of awareness and poor understanding by the public of microbial threats to water and the associated health implications; (2) the public often does not know where to find water quality information; (3) public information needs are not identified or met; (4) information sharing by authorities is predominantly one-way and reactive (crisis-oriented); and (5) the effectiveness of communications is not evaluated. There is a need for both improved public understanding of water quality-related risks, and new approaches to ensure information related to water quality reaches audiences. Overall, greater attention should be given to planning and goal setting related to microbial water risk communication.

Keywords: British Columbia; communication; drinking water quality; microbial risk; public; recreational water quality

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