READINESS FOR ENSURING SAFE DRINKING WATER IN SMALL COMMUNITY SYSTEMS
All communities face challenges with respect to making water safe to drink and ensuring that it reaches consumers without decreasing in quality, yet these challenges are often amplified in small communities (<5,000 pop.). Best practices established by the World Health Organization emphasize proactive risk management in a water supply, guided by a Water Safety Plan (WSP) framework. While WSP-style management presents a more robust approach for managing risk in a water supply, uptake is often contingent on community capacity. New water policies can highlight gaps between the capacity to develop policies for ensuring safe drinking water, and the capacity of some communities to comply with these policies. Small communities in particular may require additional support to implement and maintain certain water policies such as WSPs effectively, and over the long term. The focus of this research is to understand how to best support these small communities. This dissertation addresses a unique gap in WSP literature by considering community readiness for change as a potential barrier to policy uptake, implementation and maintenance. Community readiness considers a range of factors or ‘dimensions’ within a community that may support or hinder uptake of a new program or concept. There are four phases to this research: (1) a literature review to understand global experiences in implementing a WSP-style framework; (2) an investigation of seven small communities across Canada to understand experiences of upgrading a drinking water supply; (3) the validation of a modified community readiness assessment tool for use in the water policy – small community context; and (4) a baseline assessment of readiness in eight small communities in Alberta. By examining challenges associated with water policy uptake through a readiness lens, this research highlights a number of underlying socio-political factors that may significantly impede the trajectory of otherwise effective water management policies. A community readiness lens provides a practicable approach for addressing these socio-political factors, and may help better prepare communities for change. A community readiness approach shows potential as both a community pre-screening tool or as standard procedure during policy implementation.