Drinking Water Advisories: Current Problems

Drinking Water Emergency

July 9, 2019

Fed. Govt.

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.

October 22, 2020

Fed. Govt., MB

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.

December 8, 2020

Fed. Govt., ON

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

Fed. Govt., MB

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.