Knowledge Translation Challenges for Small Water Treatment Systems

Principal Investigator - Graham Gagnon, Professor, Dalhousie University

Knowledge Translation Challenges for Small Water Treatment Systems


Drinking water quality in small communities often fails to consistently meet existing Canadian Drinking Water Quality (CDWQ) guidelines. Small communities may experience difficulties in the implementation of new water policies and standards due to a lack of communication, capacity, and operator knowledge and training. There exists a need to identify cost-effective and practically feasible strategies that can be used to ensure high quality drinking water is delivered to consumers in small communities.

The objective of this project, led by Dr. Graham Gagnon was to understand what gaps exist in knowledge acquisition and implementation of guidelines for small systems (particularly guidelines on Haloacetic acids and corrosion control rules), including information on how small systems operators acquire information, what networks exist to share this information, and who holds the decision making responsibility regarding drinking water in the community. A secondary objective was to create relationships and communication between small systems operators in order to facilitate the creation of regional networks.


The goal of this research is to begin building regional networks encompassing small system operators and Chief Administrative Officers, and to identify the specific training gaps and communication needs for operators of small systems, ranging from Information Technology limitations to a lack of fundamental math and water chemistry knowledge.

The research team conducted a variety of interviews with small systems operators to discuss factors affecting small system compliance and implementation of water quality guidelines, as well as networks and relationships that exist between small systems operators. The team found that the four major challenges for small systems operators in Atlantic Canada were:

  • Incorporating current and emerging regulations on water quality, which may be unrealistic and/or very costly for small systems to implement
  • Operator training and certification may be difficult for small systems operators to achieve within a limited capacity (systems may only have one main operator) and budget
  • Operator recruitment and retention can be difficult in small and remote systems; it may be difficult to attract new operators and operators, once trained, may not stay in the community
  • Community relations may be difficult in small communities because the population may be untrusting of tap water, and operators may lack resources to overcome this perception


  • The results of this project were shared in a short article in the Winter 2011 edition of Go with the Flow, the Atlantic Canada Water and Wastewater Association Newsletter, pg 8-9, which can be found at
  • Megan Kot, a Highly Qualified Personnel on the project, can be seen delivering a talk on the project results at the 37th Annual Operator Seminar for the Alberta Water and Wastewater Operators Association at
  • Researchers developed fact sheets and conducted workshops with small systems utilities to share the information on challenges for small systems operators that was gathered from the interviews.
  • Finally, a paper was published to share the research results in the journal Health and Place 17(5), published in 2011.


  • The project helped to develop a greater understanding of challenges that are faced by small systems operators in meeting water quality guidelines and communicate these results to the small systems operator community, and as such may help to inform strategies to increase compliance with guidelines in small systems.
  • This project was also a component of an NSERC Strategic Grant, and as part of this grant helped to facilitate the building of networks between small systems operators and the research team necessary for the project to progress.
  • Finally, the research team’s capacity to conduct research interviews, communicate with operators, and progress through a human ethics review board was augmented through experience and training gained over the course of this project.

Research Team

  • Graham Gagnon, Associate Professor, Dalhousie University
  • Pierre Berube, Assistant Professor, University of British Columbia
  • Susan Andrews, Associate Professor, Univesity of Waterloo
  • Donald Mavinic, Professor, University of British Columbia
  • Margaret Walsh, Assistant Professor, Dalhousie University


  • Health Canada. First Nations and Inuit Health Branch (FNIHB)
  • Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC)
  • Alberta Research Council
  • Nova Scotia Department of Environment and Labour
  • The City of Camrose (AB)
  • Town of Bridgewater (NS)
  • Town of New Glasgow (NS)
  • Municipality of County of Colchester (NS)
  • Town of Stellarton (NS)