Atlantic First Nations Water Authority becomes Canada’s first Indigenous water utility

Potlotek First Nation Chief, Wilbert Marshall, right, and the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority’s interim CEO, Carl Yates, far left, sign a transfer agreement with Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, centre. Photo credit: Atlantic First Nations Water Authority

The Atlantic First Nations Water Authority has become Canada’s first Indigenous water utility, following a recent service delivery transfer agreement with Indigenous Services Canada.

After the communities ratify their participation, the authority will control water and wastewater services for as many as 4,500 households and businesses located in up to 17 participating First Nations, representing some 60% of the on-reserve population in Atlantic Canada.

So far, that includes First Nations communities in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island.

The federal government has committed approximately $257 million in funding for the transfer, including $173 million over 10 years from Budget 2022 that will provide sustainable funding for operations and capital programs.

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Atlantic First Nations Water Authority Board Chair and Potlotek First Nation Chief, Wilbert Marshall says that after decades of water “unfit for use and consumption,” the new approach offers a path forward. 

“This has been a long time in the making and we are grateful to the leadership and commitment from our communities to get us to this milestone,” Marshall announced in a statement. “We look forward to building capacity and increasing the level of service to standards enjoyed by other residents of Canada. We have blazed a trail for others to follow but that is the way of the Wabanaki who have always been first to see the dawn,” added Marshall.

Although the non-profit authority was incorporated in 2018, the new service delivery transfer agreement allows it to take responsibility for the operation, maintenance, and capital upgrades of all water and wastewater assets owned by participating First Nations.

A framework agreement was signed in 2020 for the authority to undertake a comprehensive asset management plan, as well as a 10–year capital and operations budget.

The authority’s board said that it will use a full-service decentralized model to serve participants, meaning that it will arrange operations into a network of hubs that centralize expertise and operational knowledge in geographically compatible locations close to communities and their community-based operators.

Neqotkuk Chief and vice-chair of the board of directors for the water authority, Ross Perley, stated that many First Nations have suffered due to chronic underfunding and boil water advisories, and that it’s time for First Nations to be in charge of their own assets.

Thirty-one long-term water advisories remain in effect for 27 communities across Canada. However, since late 2015, 136 long-term water advisories have been lifted.

Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu said that the authority will “contribute to safer and healthier First Nations communities in Atlantic Canada and provide a fantastic model for other regions.”

The authority’s interim CEO, Carl Yates is the former head of Halifax Water.

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