Water safety plans provide a relatively new management approach for identifying and addressing risks in a water supply. In 2011, the province of Alberta (Canada) became the first jurisdiction in North America to require that all water supplies develop drinking water safety plans (DWSPs). This research explored the implementation of DWSPs through the experiences of ‘early adopter’ operators who work in small communities. Specifically, in-person open-ended qualitative interviews with operators from 15 small communities from across Alberta were conducted to explore implementation challenges and opportunities. The findings highlight a number of barriers associated with the relationships between decision-making bodies, regulatory authorities and water operators, all of which have the potential to support or hinder the uptake of a DWSP. Findings also indicate that a DWSP can act as a bridge, providing a much-needed tool to facilitate communication about water supplies and help to support and manage relationships between stakeholders. This study revealed a number of important and useful insights to the small community early DWSP adopter experience in Canada that could be applied in other jurisdictions looking to adopt similar practices.

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