The federal government has launched a call for proposals that will provide up to $500,000 per project that addresses the retention, recruitment and availability of water and wastewater operators working on First Nations reserves.
Indigenous Services Canada supports initiatives for water and wastewater operators through investments of approximately $20 million annually. This includes more than $12 million per year for the Circuit Rider Training Program. With these new investments, the federal government has increased the annual funding it provides to the operations and maintenance of water and wastewater systems by almost four times, officials announced.
“For many of these communities in need of long-term solutions for reliable access to safe, clean water, the availability and retention of a trained water and wastewater operator plays an important part in addressing that challenge,” announced Minister of Indigenous Services, Patty Hajdu, in a statement. “Proposals funded through this initiative will help to address some of these barriers and support First Nations in creating and sustaining a qualified workforce of operators,” she added.
All projects eligible for the new funding must address at least one of several target areas for making progress on First Nations reserves. Proposals can focus on foundational capacity building, such as awareness raising and outreach for the recruitment and retention of trained and certified operators.
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Additionally, eligible projects can target preventative maintenance practices or source water protection planning. They may also address culture and diversity, meaning that the proposal may integrate traditional water teachings, or empower women and youth. Lastly, consideration will be given to projects that develop innovative solutions around training and education methods, operator networks, or new potential funding models.
Indigenous Services Canada notes that priority will be given to proposals that target First Nations communities with either drinking water advisories or high-risk systems.
There are still 36 long-term drinking water advisories in effect for 29 First Nations communities. In November 2017, a national research paper from the University of Guelph revealed links between an operator’s lack of training and the average length of a reserve’s drinking water advisories.
A 2007 report from the formerly named Indian and Northern Affairs Canada notes that retaining First Nations operators has been a longstanding issue, as some 25% of operators in First Nations communities at the time had left their job for either the municipal sector or private industry.
The proposed project can last up to two years, and proposals for the funding have a deadline of April 25.
In late 2021, Jonathan Riberdy, a water operator for the Zhiibaahaasing First Nation in Ontario, won the National First Nations Water Leadership Award.