Canadian Consulting Engineer

Study finds First Nations water infrastructure lacking

May 14, 2003
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

The federal government has announced details of how it is going to spend $600 million on improving water and wastew...

The federal government has announced details of how it is going to spend $600 million on improving water and wastewater conditions among First Nation communities. The extra funding was originally identified in the February 2003 budget, Since then, First Nations have been anxiously waiting to see how the money will be distributed.
The press announcement on May 14 from the federal Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development laid out a seven-part “source-to-tap” spread of areas for receiving funds. Top item on the list — of most interest to consulting engineering firms — was the “hard” engineering program of upgrading and building of water and wastewater facilities. Other items slated for funding include improved maintenance and operation of equipment, establishing clearly defined protocols and standards, more monitoring and better reporting, expanded operator training, and a public awareness campaign in First Nations communities
The same day, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) posted the results of a major study that showed there is a big need for investment in this area. First Nations Chiefs have long been complaining that their communities were suffering from “third world” infrastructure conditions. The INAC report entitled, “National Assessment of Water and Wastewater Systems in First Nations Communities” was based on on-site visual “walk-through” assessments of 740 community systems. It was done with the help of consulting engineering firms working for different regions.
In water supply systems, more were found to be high risk than were found to be satisfactory. Only 25% of systems were low or no-risk, while 29% posed a high risk of producing water of low quality (this does not necessarily mean they produce water that is an immediate health risk).
In wastewater systems, 16% were found to be producing effluent that could pose a potential high risk. About 44% were medium risk, and about 40% were low or no risk.
The assessment blamed the problems on all aspects of water supply, including water source, and design and treatment technologies.
The INAC report says the Department will focus on improving high and medium risk water and wastewater systems in all regions. It will also carry on with implementing a mandatory certification program for water and sewer plant operators that it started in 2000, as well as a “Circuit Rider Training Program” whereby trainers travel to the different reserves to give hands-on training to operators on site.
The report estimates that it will cost between $475-$560 million to bring the high and medium risk systems up to scratch. Providing basic water and wastewater services to about 5,300 houses that don’t have them presently, it says, will cost roughly $185 million. The cost of normal upgrades and expansion annually is about $100 million.


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