Drinking Water Advisories: Current Problems

Reports on Drinking Water Issues

August 30, 2021

Fed. Govt.

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.

February 26, 2021

Fed. Govt.

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

Fed. Govt.

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.