First Nations Drinking Water and Wastewater Act closes consultation window

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Public consultation wrapped last week for the draft of what will eventually become the First Nations Drinking Water and Wastewater Act.

Since summer 2022, federal officials have consulted with more than 80 First Nations and First Nations organizations to share information, listen, and work with First Nations partners to explore how to address their water needs and priorities through the new legislation.

The act follows the repeal of the 2013 Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act on June 23, 2022, in alignment with the federal Safe Drinking Water Class Action Settlement Agreement.

The 2013 act was criticized by First Nations’ leaders for having no framework for adequate and sustainable funding; potentially infringing on treaty rights; failing to protect source water; and often resulting in insufficient engagement on issues that directly affect First Nations.

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“A consultation draft has now been shared with rights holders, including Modern Treaty and Self-Governing Nations, and First Nations organizations, to ensure engagement continues, and to respect the principles of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” announced Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, in a statement.

The new draft legislation, which closed to consultation on April 23, has set forth numerous principles to protect water in First Nations communities. It aims to create reliable access to clean and safe drinking water and the effective treatment and disposal of wastewater. The legislation also calls for the “effective management and monitoring of all stages of water services delivery, from the protection of source water to the treatment and disposal of wastewater.”

The draft legislation states that, “transparency and accountability are to form the basis of the effective management and monitoring of water services.” This effective management, the draft continues, should ensure the proper training and certification of water services operators; allow for information and data relating to water services on First Nation lands to be shared between Ottawa and First Nations; and lastly, the draft act states that the quality of drinking water on First Nation lands should “at least” meet the criteria set out in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

As part of the late 2021 First Nations class action settlement, the federal government agreed to spend at least $6 billion over nine years on water infrastructure and operations on hundreds of reserves and pay $1.5 billion dollars in damages to roughly 140,000 Indigenous Peoples for the years they had no reliable access to clean water.

Since 2016, the federal government has committed over $5.2 billion to First Nations to build and repair water and wastewater infrastructure and support effective management and maintenance of water systems on reserves.

Since 2015, some 138 long-term drinking water advisories have been lifted in Canada’s First Nations communities.

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