The federal government has introduced new legislation aimed at providing safe drinking water for First Nations communities.
While the provinces and territories have in recent years established their own safe drinking water standards, currently First Nations have no legally enforceable standards or protocols.
The Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, John Duncan, introduced the “Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act” in the House of Commons on February 29.
The goal will be to eventually to have regulations not only for providing safe drinking water, but also for treating wastewater and for protecting water sources on First Nations lands.
Grand Chief Cameron Alexis said the proposed legislation “lays the foundation for the future of First Nations and the Government to work together on developing regulations that will better safeguard community drinking water systems.”
Last July the government completed a huge assessment of over 4,000 water and wastewater systems, wells, etc. The “National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems,” looked at 97% of First Nations communities in Canada and was said to be “the largest and most rigorous assessment of its kind ever conducted in Canada.”
Neegan Burnside were the consultants who conducted the assessment. They visited 571 First Nations communities and identified over 350 as high risk. Over 160 of these systems were under a Health Canada drinking water advisory. Thirty per cent of the risk assessment was based on the design of the system, and the rest was based on operation, training and record keeping, etc.
The study also estimated and projected the costs of upgrading water and wastewater systems projected over the next 10 years, taking into account increases in population growth in these communities.