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Feds to fund creation of Canada Water Agency and Atlantic First Nations Water Authority

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The federal government has earmarked funding to create a Canada Water Agency that will centralize work with communities on freshwater issues, as well as a new Indigenous-led water authority designed to protect eastern Canada.

Budget 2022 proposes to provide $43.5 million over five years, and $8.7 million ongoing to Environment and Climate Change Canada to create the new Canada Water Agency later this year. Meanwhile, the budget included almost $400 million over two years for infrastructure in First Nations communities across the country, of which at least $247 million is earmarked for water and wastewater infrastructure, in addition to $173 million over the next decade for the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority.

A mandate letter from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on December 13, 2019, directed the Minister of the Environment and Climate Change to create a new Canada Water Agency in order to “find the best ways to keep our water safe, clean and well-managed.” The agency would provide the public with “a central point of contact for federal freshwater-related questions and an integrated picture of federal freshwater programs and services,” according to a discussion paper.

As the agency has moved closer to fruition, experts such as director of Global Water Futures, John Pomeroy, said that recent Canadian memory is filled with challenges where a national agency could have provided guidance and assistance, from ice jam flooding in Alberta, to extreme rainfall, and the warming of Canada’s North.

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“We’re in the rapids right now and it’s going to take expert canoeing to get through this,” Pomeroy told a panel on the creation of the agency in 2020. “We’re going to need an extremely good system to get through the challenges that our water cycle will be throwing at us over the century,” he added.

Communities across Canada have lobbied to be the headquarters for the Canada Water Agency, however, no final decision has been made other than that it will be located outside Ottawa’s National Capital Region.

As for the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority, 18 First Nations communities in the Maritimes will receive support from the new not-for-profit group. In 2020, the federal government provided $2.5 million to assist in the formation of the authority, which is the first Indigenous-owned and operated water authority in the country. Key activities in the new fiscal year include the hiring of staff, the development of an asset management plan, and completion of a 10-Year Business Plan as the basis for long-term funding from the federal government.

Carl Yates, the former head of Halifax Water, is the interim chief executive of the new authority.

“Our goal is to really produce wastewater effluent or drinking water quality that meets the highest standards in the land to other standards municipalities enjoy across the country,” Yates said in response to the new funding.

The authority is designed to give First Nations communities a strong collective voice when it comes to improving water conditions, as opposed to many smaller individual voices.

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