First Nations drinking water advisories coming and going under federal push

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view of Split Lake
In May 2018, Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Manitoba’s Split Lake saw its short-term drinking water advisory devolve into long-term status. Photo Credit: University College of the North

While long-term drinking water advisories remain in effect for public systems on 76 First Nations reserves across Canada, 62 long-term advisories have been lifted over the last two years, according to a June 2018 update from Indigenous Services Canada.

Also over the last two years, 33 new drinking water advisories have been added to the list.

Developments both positive and negative have emerged in recent months as the federal government attempts to lift all long-term (one year or longer) First Nations drinking water advisories by March 2021.

Water advisories can be created because of water line breaks, equipment failure, poor filtration or disinfection when water is treated, or in cases where the community does not have someone trained to run or adequately test the quality of the local water system.

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On May 2, Manitoba lifted a long-term drinking water advisory for Hollow Water First Nation, and a short-term advisory for Sandy Bay First Nation. However, the province’s Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Split Lake saw its short-term drinking water advisory devolve into long-term status, although officials did not give details about the specific advisory.

“Indigenous Services Canada is working with Tataskweyak Cree Nation in Manitoba to study the water source, upgrade the water treatment system and ultimately restore safe drinking water to the community,” officials said in a statement to media about the new long-term advisory.

Additionally in May, a short-term drinking water advisory was lifted on the Ojibway Nation of Saugeen in Ontario near Thunder Bay.

Canada’s 2018 federal budget proposes $172.6 million over three years, in addition to the $1.8 billion announced in 2016, to help accelerate progress on lifting drinking water advisories. The new funds also support repairs to high-risk water systems, recruitment, training and retention initiatives, as well as the establishment of innovative First Nations-led service delivery models.

Completion of a new drinking water system can take an average of three years to complete and can otherwise involve interim or permanent repairs to existing systems, as well as improved monitoring.

When a potential concern about drinking water quality is identified, an Environmental Health Officer employed by the Government of Canada or First Nations stakeholders will advise the Chief and Council about how to move forward.

Photo credit: University College of the North

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