Victory in Saint Pierre and Miquelon: from citizen alert to engagement of local authorities for water sanitation


A journey in Saint Pierre and Miquelon. This archipelago in North America is at first sight a post card landscape: preserved nature and blue water surrounding the villages of coloured houses. An exceptional environment for the numerous nautical activities practiced there: sailing, windsurf, kayak, paddle, surf, etc. But the reality isn’t as perfect. Surfrider Europe was approached this year by Swany, an inhabitant of the archipelago and kayak practitioner, about the concerning state of water quality, especially in the port of Saint-Pierre, nearby the sailing school. Surfrider thus took further interest in the problematic on this territory, supporting the local initiative. 

The wastewater and rainwater network: a never-ending story in Saint Pierre and Miquelon 

In Saint Pierre and Miquelon, the inhabitants know very well the cause of water pollution: the wastewater treatment network. A brief history. 

In 1989, the islands do not benefit from a sanitation network, everything is directly sent to the sea. IFREMER therefore questioned the water quality in these islands where fishing is an integrated activity. The institute thus published a report which revealed contamination of water with faecal germs, and recommended the reorganisation of wastewater management. On Saint Pierre island, the first sanitation network appears in the late 90’s. It is composed of 15 wastewater lifting stations scattered around the island, equipped with pumps which send the wastewaters to Galantry station. It is supposed to ensure a pre-treatment of wastewater before evacuating them offshore through a long drain.  

Theoretically, it should work. In practice, the network suffers from many manufacturing defects, and the materials, of poor quality, have not resisted natural hazards. Moreover, the network wasn’t built separately from that of rainwater, making the treatment possible only under dry weather. Finally, the responsibility of management and maintenance being poorly defined beforehand, no one took care of it. Along the port or the coasts, it is thereby easy to run into faecal matter and hygienic waste. And even without seeing them, the colour and smell of water remain more than doubtful. 

Local awareness and testimony: the beginning of a six-month investigation   

Swany, a kayak practitioner, has lived on Saint Pierre island for a short time. She testifies at the microphone of Mathias Raynaud, investigation journalist for La 1ère: “I think in the beginning I didn’t necessarily realised, because at first we’re always amazed by the first images we see, the colours, the blue of the sea... And by dint we dug a little on the matter, we hear things to right and left, and of course it questions, it shocks, it scandalizes, and it annoys […] to know that the wastewaters, all of our wastewaters are rejected in the sea”. Facing this bacteriological and chemical pollution, she reached out to Surfrider Europe, through the Coastal Defenders, for the association to help her fighting this pollution and preserve the water quality and the users’ health. 

A six-month investigation on the field thus started. In order to understand and know the “health” state of the waters nearby the launching area of the sailing school, and to be able to debate the problem, action was taken with Swany and a team of journalists from France TV. Not under regulation because it is not a bathing area, this sailing school playground do not benefit from any sanitary control, and hence no data on water quality. The team thus led a collection campaign in six strategic points. A methodology for data acquisition was deployed and the sample analyses were conducted in accredited laboratory in order to measure the concentration in E. Coli and enterococci; bacteria which indicates faecal pollution. 

Alarming results, but a lever for discussion  

The results have revealed a critical situation, in spite of the fact that these are samples of a precise time. For intestinal enterococci, quantities were too high to be filtered and analysed. For E. Coli, results are vague but clearly show evidence of faecal pollution: more than 4 800 germs for 100ml, whilst the European norm is at 1 000 germs. As Marc, Water quality and health expert at Surfrider Europe, underlines, "here the results are superior to 4 800, which means we are already 5 times higher than the norms, but it can be 40 000, 50 000 or 100 000". Further analysis would thus be needed for a more accurate evaluation of water quality. The risks for health? Gastroenteritis, ear infections, conjunctivitis, and even staphylococci in more severe cases. 

The next step of this investigation is to discuss with the authorities, the territorial and local actors of sanitation, in order to share those numbers and incentivize them to act upstream and treat the problems at their sources in case of pollution of the aquatic environment.  

The victory: the authorities react, a small step towards an improvement of the sanitation network 

On October 6, the three collectivities – Saint Pierre, Miquelon and Langlade – as well as the Prefect have reunited to sign a common agreement for a new territorial schema of drinking water and wastewater treatment. The work will be long and expensive, but it is a first major victory for the island and its inhabitants! None of it would have possible without the testimonies of the citizens, including Swany’s, and their implication, and without the investigation work of Mathias Raynaud’s team.  

This alert work against attempts for water quality and the health of sea users, it’s what our Coastal Defenders do across Europe. Contacted by citizens like Swany who spot pollution, Surfrider supports the witnesses with its expertise in order to conduct local actions and incentivize local authorities to fight these pollutions. Today, they need your help and your alerts to preserve our seas, lakes and rivers. 

Last but not least, in order to prevent such pollution, Surfrider Europe takes high level action through: the European law. Water quality monitoring in Europe is regulated by the Directive on Bathing Waters, which is planned to be revised next year. The association ensures an ongoing work of influence to integrate more conditions and protect your health. For instance, Surfrider campaigns for recreational waters to be taken into account in the Directive. As the port of Saint-Pierre shows, that it is a matter of public health. 

There are many other incidents of pollution that can be avoided. Surfrider Europe still needs your support and your alerts to prevent those and preserve the water quality of our seas and oceans.

Discover "Voyage en eaux troubles", Mathias Raynaud's reportage for La 1ère

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