Canadian Consulting Engineer

Canada reassessing First Nations water and wastewater systems

April 28, 2008
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

The Canadian government has announced it will conduct a national assessment of water and wastewater systems in Firs...

The Canadian government has announced it will conduct a national assessment of water and wastewater systems in First Nations communities.
On April 15, the Honourable Chuck Strahl, Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development announced a $330-million, two-year “First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan.”
In 2006, when the Conservative party came to power, they faced a situation where 193 First Nation water systems were at high risk of contamination. Minister Strahl noted that since then the federal government has been working on improving the situation, and so far 108 systems have been removed from the high-risk category. Of 21 communities identified as high priority for action, six are left waiting for improvements.
The new action plan calls for “a national assessment of water and wastewater systems in all First Nations communities across the country,” Minister Strahl said. “This assessment will give us a big-picture view of the status of all drinking water systems, and whether the right investments are being made.”
Minister Strahl said the results of the survey will be made public next year. The government hopes to set clear standards to guide First Nations in the planning, design and operation of their water and wastewater systems, as well as their smaller facilities such as wells and septic systems.
As part of its action plan, the government is also to double the number of trainers who go to First Nations to train locals in how to operate water and wastewater systems. The program is called the Circuit Rider Training Program.
The government has also said it will be consulting with First Nations communities and regional governments, as well as provincial governments, to establish a legislative framework for drinking water and wastewater on reserves.
A 2003 survey by consulting engineers for Indian and Northern Affairs of 740 water systems and 462 wastewater plants in First Nations communities found that 29% of their water treatment systems posed a potential high risk, and 46% were medium risk.
A few years later in October 2005, a crisis in the northern Ontario First Nations community of Kashechewan raised an outcry. People in the community had to be evacuated after the water was found to be contaminated with sewage — the same community that is now in the process of again being evacuated due to flooding.
In the June-July 2003 issue of Canadian Consulting Engineer, a feature article “Living Clean: First Nations and Water,” and an editorial “Comment,” took a comprehensive look at the problem.


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