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Drinking Water Advisories

Clean Water, Broken Promises

February 20, 2021

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.