Drinking Water Advisories: Current Problems

Fed. Govt.

August 30, 2021

Reports on Drinking Water Issues

Access to Drinking Water and Sanitation Infrastructure

“Inuit Tapariit Kanatami – A Joint Submission by Inuit Circumpolar Council and Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami to the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights to safe drinking water and sanitation documents barriers to clean drinking water and sanitation among Inuit in Alaska, Canada and Greenland. The Submission provides recommendations to the UN Special Rapporteur as well as to UN Member States to ensure that governments can overcome these challenges.

Drinking water and sanitation infrastructure as well as water and sanitation services in Inuit communities tend to be of substandard quality compared to service levels available to most other U.S., Canadian, and Danish citizens. Inuit are citizens of affluent countries yet the quality of drinking water, sanitation infrastructure, and services found in our communities often mirror those found in developing nations.
More than half of the Inuit communities affiliated with ICC, which represents 180,000 Inuit in Alaska, Canada, Greenland and Chukotka (Russia), do not have access to piped drinking water and sewer systems. Many households, particularly in Alaska and Greenland, must haul their own drinking water from community taps and dispose of their own sewage by hand, contributing to water rationing as well as elevated rates of disease, particularly among children.

Like many Inuit communities in Alaska, most Inuit communities in Canada rely on trucked water delivery and sewage removal services. Crowding caused by the chronic housing shortage in Inuit Nunangat communities places stress on drinking water and sanitation services that are often impacted by other factors, including climate change, severe weather, and other infrastructure deficits, which compound these challenges.
Inuit communities tend to be under boil water advisories more often than non-Inuit communities and some have faced long-term boil water advisories lasting longer than a year. The frequency of boil water advisories experienced by Inuit is indicative of the aging and substandard quality of water and sanitation infrastructure and related services in our communities.

There are practical measures governments can take to improve access to drinking water and sanitation. For example, recently the government of Canada prioritized ending long-term BWAs on First Nations reserves through investments in First Nations water infrastructure. The Submission recommends that such investments in drinking water and sanitation infrastructure include Inuit communities.

All of these challenges remain largely overlooked by researchers and governments, contributing to limited data and information that could inform coherent and effective policy responses. Furthermore, Inuit face challenges in relation to accessing the funding required to improve drinking water and sanitation systems and services. The Submission calls on States to make major new Inuit-specific investments in Inuit community water and sanitation infrastructure and to take measures to streamline processes for community procurement of funding.

July 9, 2019

Drinking Water Emergency

Attawapiskat First Nation

CBC – Attawapiskat declares a state of emergency over state of drinking water. Tap water shows potentially harmful levels of disinfection by-products. Pro-longed exposure to THMs and HAAs can cause skin irritation and could increase the risk of cancer, according to a consultant report prepared for the community.

THMs and HAAs cannot be cleared through boiling water. Attawapiskat has long struggled with THM and HAA levels due to the high level of naturally occurring organic material in the lake where the community draws its water. Attawapiskat Chief Ignace Gull said the issue goes back to the 1970s when Ottawa decided use the lake water, which was originally intended to only feed the school, homes for teachers and the nursing station, to supply the whole community. “It wasn’t meant for the community,” he said. “We didn’t have indoor plumbing at that time.” At the same time as Attawapiskat declared a state of emergency over its ongoing water problems, Catherine McKenna the Minister for the Environment boasted about the world leading quality of tap water in Ottawa.

The only lasting solution to the nagging water woes would be to change the community’s water source to the Attawapiskat River — a conclusion reached by studies in 2008 and 2011. A new water source is also part of a broader plan for a desperately needed expansion of the community, which is bursting at the seams and pushing its existing water and wastewater systems to a near breaking point. The cost of the expansion is estimated at about $300 million to $400 million over 20 years.

February 26, 2021

Reports on Drinking Water Issues

Auditor-General Report on Drinking Water Issues in First Nations

A report from Auditor General Karen Hogan tabled today in the House of Commons concludes that the support provided by Indigenous Services Canada has not been adequate to address long-standing problems with safe drinking water for many of Canada’s First Nations communities. Drinking water advisories remain a part of daily life in many of these communities, with almost half of existing long-term advisories in place for more than a decade.

Between 2015 and 2020, 100 long-term drinking water advisories in place on public water systems in First Nations communities were lifted, while 60 remained in effect—28 of these were more than 10 years old. In December 2020, Indigenous Services Canada acknowledged that it would not meet its target of removing all long-term drinking water advisories on public water systems in First Nations communities by 31 March 2021.
The audit found that Indigenous Services Canada’s efforts have been constrained by an outdated policy and formula for funding the operation and maintenance of public water systems. In addition, the department has been working with First Nations to revise the legislative framework to provide First Nations communities with drinking water protections comparable to other communities in Canada.

“Indigenous Services Canada must work in partnership with First Nations to develop and implement a lasting solution for safe drinking water in First Nations communities, to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories and prevent new ones from occurring”, said Ms. Hogan”.

February 20, 2021

Reports on Drinking Water Issues

Clean Water, Broken Promises

APTN –Clean Water, Broken Promises”, a collaborative investigation into water issues in First Nations. Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism (IIJ) consortium has been investigating problems in water quality nationwide since September 2018. In November 2019, the group’s videos and articles revealed that in a half-dozen Canadian cities, lead levels in the tap water of older homes were comparable to or exceeded those in Flint, Michigan, at the height of its 2015 water crisis. The investigation had an immediate impact at a municipal and provincial level.

But the consortium was aware of its blind spots — almost no information was available about the water quality in First Nations communities. The IIJ submitted over 190 access-to-information requests to Indigenous Services Canada over two years, but as of publishing, the majority of those requests have not received responses.

Some of the findings:

  • money spent by the federal government since 2015 has failed to include sufficient funding to connect homes to centralized systems in many parts of the country
  • A federal government audit found ISC’s funding formula for operation and maintenance of water infrastructure hasn’t changed in over 30 years
  • Indigenous water operators sometimes earn less than half of what municipal operators are paid
    Despite guidelines that suggest a preference for jobs be given to companies with a satisfactory performance record, ISC does not have a list of companies that receive contracts for water projects in First Nations communities and does not keep track of issues with these firms.
  • The federal government has acknowledged for at least 13 years that the maintenance of First Nations’ water and wastewater infrastructure is underfunded.
  • Despite additional investments made in the last two years, the policy changes long promised by Ottawa have been slow to materialize.
  • nterviews conducted with hundreds of people on the ground—First Nations leaders, community members, water operators, academics and engineers—show the consequences of these policies are severe and put communities at risk.

Contributors to the “Broken Promises” investigation include students, faculty members and journalists at a consortium of universities, colleges and media companies, coordinated by Concordia University’s Institute for Investigative Journalism. An advisory board guided project design and execution.

December 23, 2021

Class Action Lawsuits

Federal Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench approve an agreement to settle class-action litigation

APTN – Yesterday, the Federal Court and the Court of Queen’s Bench of Manitoba issued a joint decision approving an agreement to settle class-action litigation related to safe drinking water in First Nations communities. An appeals period of approximately 60 days will follow the courts’ approval of the settlement agreement. The class-action lawsuits could see approximately 142,000 individuals from 258 First Nations compensated, along with 120 First Nations.

June 29, 2021

Class Action Lawsuits

Marten Falls First Nation

Marten Falls First Nation – has agreed to join the class-action litigation on drinking water advisories in First Nation communities, which will be led by Olthuis, Kleer, Townshend (OKT) LLP and McCarthy Tétrault LLP. Marten Falls has decided to participate in this class-action lawsuit because it has been under a boil water advisory for over 20 years. The lack of potable water in the community has resulted in illness, an unnecessary loss of opportunities amongst community members, and a burdensome distribution process.

Bottled water is flown into the community and distributed to community members at the airport. Marten Falls is responsible for paying the upfront costs of these water resources and their transportation, which can cost up to $40,000 per month. Although the federal government reimburses Marten Falls for these expenses, the cost of buying and transporting water puts a significant strain on the community’s limited financial resources. The reimbursement process is also slow and partial since the community shares water with non-band members in the community like teachers, contractors, and guest workers who are not covered. To put this into perspective, from 2014-2015, Marten Falls had to wait an entire fiscal year to be reimbursed for its bottled water.
The objective of this class-action is two-fold.

  • First, it sets out to obtain compensation for First Nations affected by drinking water advisories
  • Second, it endeavours to obtain a declaration from Canada that it will work with First Nations to provide access to clean water, which includes requiring Canada to construct and fund water systems for communities.

The Chief and Council of Marten Falls believe that by participating in this legal challenge, the community’s water crisis can finally come to an end for the long-term. Marten Falls has suffered enough, and the community’s infrastructure issues need support and long-term operations and maintenance commitments.
Marten Falls faces other long-standing issues that relate directly to the neglect of infrastructure in First Nations communities, as the boil water advisory example illustrates.

One of the greatest challenges that Marten Falls faces to date is a lack of critical community infrastructure. The community has faced many challenges associated with its water treatment facility and lack of transportation infrastructure, housing, communal buildings, and community-based apparatus. Although issues with the water treatment facility are being resolved and transportation infrastructure is slowly being addressed through community participation in the Ring of Fire infrastructure projects, Marten Falls continues to chronically lack housing and firefighting infrastructure.

These are systemic issues, and they require the attention of Canadian governments and Indigenous organizations. The governments of Canada and Ontario must come to the table on these issues with our governments.

June 19, 2022

Long-term DWA

Neskantaga First Nation marks 27 years under a Boil Water Advisory – 10,000 days!

NationTalk: LANDSDOWNE HOUSE, ON – The community of Neskantaga First Nation (NFN) marked today as the 10,000thconsecutive day of being under a Boil Water Advisory (BWA). Causing 27 years of anxiety, frustration, and hardship in the community and a major challenge for the federal government to resolve—the current BWA was first declared on February 1, 1995.  It has caused the community to fully evacuate on two occasions (for 1-3 months at a time) in 2019 and 2020.

“This is not something we are proud of by any means but it is real and happening today in our community,” said Chief Wayne Moonias. “Acknowledging 10,000 days in BWA is impactful in so many ways—there has been so much loss of dignity and lack of trust over this,” he added.

Over the past three years, NFN has been working with Canada to address the root causes to the longest BWA in the country by embarking on some of the following projects:

  • Commissioning an independent report on: (1) the design suitability of the upgraded water treatment plant (WTP), distribution and wastewater system and, (2) the best options for a new WTP and system
  • Commissioning a study to assess NFN’s current water systems and identify options for new systems that are suitable for a 20-Year Community Growth Plan
  • Developing a “What Actually Happened Report?” – this report is an investigation into the aging WTP plant upgrade project and why it went five times over budget and delivered years late
  • Entered into a 5-Year operations, maintenance and training contract with the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA) that includes training for NFN members
  • Developing a long-term “Trust in the Taps Navigators” project which is part of a community wellness strategy to help people address trauma caused by the long-term water crisis
  • A project to clean up used water bottle containers in the community

Chief Moonias concluded by saying, “Remote water systems are complicated and sensitive. Everyday, we continue to be on the brink of a complete shutdown. We are hoping that, what we do to address the root causes, will benefit our community in the near future and for generations to come.”

Neskantaga First Nation is situated in Northern Ontario on Attawapiskat Lake, 271 kms north east of Thunder Bay, Ontario. It is a remote community accessible only by air or winter ice-road. It has over 500+ band members.

October 22, 2020

Drinking Water Emergency

Neskantanga First Nation

Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) – Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler and Neskantaga First Nation Chief Chris Moonias have demanded a coordinated response to the State of Emergency declared by the remote community as immediate heath threats from the water system has forced the community to evacuate its members.

Indigenous Services Canada has refused to acknowledge the severity of the situation and classify it as a public health crisis despite the following facts:

  • ongoing leaks depleting the water reservoir
  • the water distribution system fully shut off from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily since October 8 to allow adequate time for the reservoir to replenish and prevent the pump from being overworked.
  • after the system shut off for the day an oily sheen was found on the top of the water within the community’s reservoir.
  • water distribution system will remain shut off until the substance can be identified and addressed. This has left the community without any running water.
  • With the water being completely shut off, the reverse osmosis unit (the drinking water machine) is not functional
  • The new water treatment plant cannot become operational until it passes a 14-day test run.
  • The school is shut down because the plumbing in the school is not working properly due to constantly turning the water off and on in the community. Grand Chief Alvin Fiddler.

“In a remote community, a major infrastructure failure is a crisis, and even more so in the middle of a global pandemic. Community members are living in dehumanizing condition and cannot bathe or flush their toilets. This is a health emergency crisis, plain and simple. It is unacceptable that government officials refuse to declare this as an emergency. The people of Neskantaga need to be supported in every way possible, and we will do everything we can to help”.

Neskantaga has not had safe drinking water since 1995 – the longest running boil water advisory in Canada. A water treatment plant was constructed in 2016 but there have been numerous delays, equipment failures and related infrastructure failures. The system failed in 2019, and the long-standing boil water advisory was replaced with a Do Not Consume warning.

Indigenous Services Canada refused to evacuate the community.

Evacuation Status

  • The community has initiated the first phase of an evacuation of their most vulnerable members.
    • 56 people were flown to Thunder Bay Tuesday evening and are lodging in local hotels.
    • 120 people are expected to arrive in Thunder Bay on Wednesday.

In 2016, Carolyn Bennet, Minister of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs promised to have the Neskantaga water system problems fixed by 2018.

October 15, 2019

Class Action Lawsuits

Okanagan Indian Band : Other First Nations join lawsuit

Water Canada – Ermineskin Cree Nation, Sucker Creek First Nation and two other Alberta First Nations have joined forces with Okanogan First Nation to coordinate legal actions to confirm First Nations’ – and other Canadians – human right to safe drinking water. Ermineskin Cree Nation will also be presenting to the Assembly of First Nations Water Symposium in late November, following the federal election, to encourage other First Nations across Canada to push for recognition of the First Nations’ human right to safe drinking water, including new legal actions across the country.

August 19, 2019

Class Action Lawsuits

Okanagan Indian Band files suit in federal court over drinking water

Water Canada – Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB) filed a suit in Federal Court against the federal government over its failure to ensure the safety of drinking water. An expert assessment commissioned by the federal government in 2010 by firm Neegan Burnside produced a startling result. All of the drinking water systems were ranked an 8 out of 10 on a scale of potential risk to human health. After 9 years of determined and good faith efforts on the part of the OKIB, the federal government has made upgrades to only 1 of 7 systems. Okanagan felt no option was left, apart from legal action. We are stuck in limbo between federal policy that underfunds our system and provincial infrastructure resources we cannot access. The suit simply asks for confirmation that First Nations have the same access to safe drinking water as other Canadians. That would compel the federal government to ensure water infrastructure that meets safety standards – with a timeline.

November 26, 2019

Long-term DWA

Oneida Water Distribution System

Toronto Star/ Ryerson School of Journalism: The water distribution system on Oneida territory (with 2,200 residents) – operated by the community with regulatory oversight from Indigenous Services Canada – has failed to meet provincial standards dating back to 2006. Upstream, the nearby City of London dumps millions of litres of raw sewage into the Thames river that serves as the community’s water source. Yet, Oneida has received none of the federal government’s high-profile funding for safe, clean drinking water to Indigenous communities.

On the other side of the gravel road across Oneida is the Township of Southampton who draw their water from Lake Erie and is fed by a $176M upgrade last year. “I give my biggest beef here to all the municipalities around us that received money to bring up their water systems after Walkerton (tainted water scandal) to meet new renewed standards” said Oneida Chief Jessica Hill, who stopped drinking from her water tap in 2002.
“We are still sitting here with pre-Walkerton standards. What does that tell you?

The bottled water that the Oneida community drinks from comes from same source as the tap water of neighbours in the municipality across the street.

December 8, 2020

Drinking Water Emergency

Shamattawa First Nation

Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak Inc – Letter to PM Trudeau – With 264 confirmed COVID-19 cases in a community of just over 1000 people, Shamattawa First Nation in northern Manitoba immediate assistance from your office to help us evacuate the Elders of Shamattawa to ensure they are able to safely isolate in closer proximity to health services, should they develop complications from COVID-19.

We need to ensure Elders and anyone with underlying health issues are able to access emergency health services should the need arrive. Health infrastructure and services are not set up to assist Shamattawa with an outbreak this large in scale. We know from the data in Manitoba that First Nations people are being disproportionately impacted by COVID-19.

The people from our communities are being hospitalized and put into intensive care units at higher rates than non-Indigenous Manitobans.

December 2, 2019

Drinking Water Emergency

Tataskweyak Cree Nation proposes class-action lawsuit

National Post: A chief of a Manitoba First Nation is proposing a class-action lawsuit against the federal government on behalf of her community and other reserves that have experienced long-term boil water advisories. Tataskweyak Cree Nation Chief Doreen Spence said in a statement of claim filed last month that people are unable to practise their traditions, have become very ill and have moved away because of issues with drinking water.

The Tataskweyak Cree Nation’s traditional territory was vast, following caribou herds in northern Manitoba. But its reserve was created in 1908 about 48 kilometres northeast of Thompson on the shore of Split Lake. Much of southern Manitoba’s water drains to Hudson Bay through the Nelson and Burntwood rivers, which converge in the lake. The court action alleges that as upstream land use and hydroelectric development increased, water quality in the lake significantly declined and the community suffered.

The lawsuit says the federal government has refused to find an alternative source for drinking water, despite the community recommending a nearby lake.

July 30, 2021

Class Action Lawsuits

Tataskweyak, Curve Lake and Neskantaga First Nations sign an historic Agreement-in- Principle

“Tataskweyak Cree Nation, Curve Lake First Nation and Neskantaga First Nation, together with the Honourable Marc Miller, Minister of Indigenous Services, announced that an historic Agreement in Principle has been reached through a successful negotiation process to resolve national class action litigation related to safe drinking water in First Nations communities.

This Agreement in Principle addresses important concerns identified by First Nations represented in the class action lawsuits.

The agreement includes the following:

  • $1.5 billion in compensation for individuals deprived of clean drinking water;
  • he creation of a $400 million First Nation Economic and Cultural Restoration Fund;
  • a renewed commitment to Canada’s Action Plan for the lifting of all long-term drinking water advisories;
  • the creation of a First Nations Advisory Committee on Safe Drinking Water;
  • support for First Nations to develop their own safe drinking water by-laws and initiatives;
  • a commitment of at least $6 billion to support reliable access to safe drinking water on reserve;
  • planned modernization of Canada’s First Nations drinking water legislation.”

April 28, 2022

Class Action Lawsuits

Update to Safe Drinking Water Settlement Agreement

Indigenous Services Canada: Chief Wayne Moonias of Neskantaga First Nation, Chief Doreen Spence of Tataskweyak Cree Nation and Chief Emily Whetung of Curve Lake First Nation, along with the Honourable Patty Hajdu, Minister of Indigenous Services, provided an update on the progress underway and announced that the claims period is open for the historic settlement agreement resolving national class action litigation related to safe drinking water in First Nations communities.

Additional details on how to apply are available on the First Nations Drinking Water Settlement website.

Canada continues to work with partners to repeal and replace Canada’s First Nations drinking water legislation. As part of the settlement agreement, the Government of Canada is committed to making all reasonable efforts to repeal the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, and to develop and introduce replacement legislation, in consultation with First Nations, by December 31, 2022. The repeal of the Act is included as part of Budget 2022 measures and we hope that Parliament will review this legislation expeditiously.

The Government of Canada will continue to work with Neskantaga First Nation, Tataskweyak Cree Nation and Curve Lake First Nation to address and fulfill all aspects of the settlement agreement.

We continue to make progress in many important areas that First Nations and their members have told us are essential to supporting their communities. We remain focused on capacity-building and have increased operations and maintenance funding to 100%—up from 80%. This means First Nations are able to:

  • improve water operator salaries and better retain qualified operators in their communities
  • train new operators to build water maintenance capacity
  • improve or maintain asset condition ratings, and
  • ensure longer lifecycles for water assets.

Furthermore, the government’s commitment to ending all long-term drinking water advisories on reserves remains a top priority. As of April 28, 2022, First Nations—with support from Indigenous Services Canada—have lifted 132 long-term drinking water advisories since November 2015. In addition, 215 short-term drinking water advisories have been prevented from becoming long term. Work continues to address the 33 long-term drinking water advisories that remain, affecting 28 communities on public systems on reserves.