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The Changing of the guard
FIRST NATION WATER/WASTEWATER
The Liberal government recently-tabled federal budget provides more than $2 billion to end boil-water advisories on reserves and invest in proper monitoring and testing of drinking water. In this Q&A, WaterToday looks into the Circuit Rider Training Program (CRTP), one of the components of the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs commitment to work, in consultation with Indigenous Peoples and other stakeholders to improve essential physical infrastructure for Indigenous communities.
A LOOK AT THE CIRCUIT RIDER TRAINING PROGRAM
WaterToday - What is the CRTP?
INAC - INAC's Circuit Rider Training Program (CRTP) provides First Nations operators with hands-on, on-site training and mentoring on how to operate their drinking water and wastewater systems.
The CRTP is offered through a variety of partners and service providers including private companies, tribal councils and First Nation technical organizations.
The CRTP aims to:
- support on-reserve water and wastewater system operators in developing and maintaining the capacity to manage their systems well;
- improve the maintenance, management and effectiveness of on-reserve drinking water and wastewater systems;
- reduce the number and duration of drinking water advisories (DWAs); and,
- help First Nations communities to exploit the full service life of their water and wastewater infrastructure.
The Department provides financial support for the training and certification of operators through the CRTP. First Nation Chiefs and Band Councils are responsible for ensuring that the operators are adequately certified.
WaterToday - What are Circuit Rider Trainers and what do they do?
INAC - The CRTP rotates qualified experts, known as Circuit Rider Trainers (CRTs), through a circuit of First Nation communities, who provide hands-on training to operators on their own water and wastewater systems.
The Circuit Rider Trainers also support on-reserve operators to coordinate their certification training. They may also provide advice to Chiefs and Councils on the responsibilities with respect to management, operation and maintenance of their water and wastewater systems.
Currently, approximately 70 Circuit Rider trainers support First Nation operators.
The Department assisted in the establishment of the Circuit Rider Trainers Professional Association in March 2009. This Association meets annually and, throughout the year, maintains the network of Circuit Rider Trainers to share best practices, training materials and provide mutual support.
WaterToday - What are the eligibility requirements for the CRTP
INAC - The program is offered to all First Nation communities across Canada and is intended for water and wastewater treatment plant operators who are currently employed by a First Nation community and are operating the First Nation’s community water and/or wastewater treatment system(s).
WaterToday - What impact has the CRTP had on improving the state of water and wastewater on reserve?
INAC - Trained and certified operators are key to reducing risk and helping to ensure safe drinking water in First Nation communities. The CRTP supports First Nations in developing and retaining the capacity to operate and maintain water and wastewater systems.
Through initiatives such as the CRTP, the number of First Nation operators who are certified or in-training toward certification has been steadily increasing.
In 2012–2013, new Minimum Program Requirements for the Circuit Rider Training Program (CRTP) were developed to standardize the delivery of on-site, hands-on training and mentoring for on-reserve water and wastewater system operators.
WaterToday - Why are First Nations communities still dealing with serious water and wastewater issues on reserve?
INAC - The Government understands that the state of water and wastewater in some First Nations communities is unacceptable.
First Nations expect, as do all Canadians, access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water. The Government of Canada is engaging in a renewed, respectful, and inclusive nation-to-nation process, one that makes progress on issues most important to Indigenous communities, including safe drinking water.
In 2011, a National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Infrastructure identified the need for additional investments in this type of infrastructure as well as the challenges Indigenous communities faced to adequately maintain and operate their facilities. While some progress has been made, significant gaps remain.
Budget 2016 proposes to address health and safety needs, ensure proper facility operation and maintenance, and end long-term boil water advisories on reserves within five years by investing an additional $1.8 billion over five years, starting in 2016–17.
The proposed investments form part of the first phase of the Government’s 10-year plan to invest in green infrastructure. The second phase of this plan will include additional investments in green infrastructure in Indigenous communities.
WaterToday - Can you provide a success story that has come out of the Circuit Rider Training Program?
INAC - In British Columbia, some First Nation communities, including Lytton First Nation, have used the Circuit Rider Training Program to train independent, self-sufficient, and skilled water system operators.
Lytton First Nation operators are now spearheading a new Operator Association for First Nation operators in British Columbia and the Yukon. This community is also working with the RES’EAU-WaterNET and the University of British Columbia on a pilot project to test new innovative approaches to water treatment in smaller and more remote communities.
Also in British Columbia, Circuit Rider Trainer job shadowing opportunities are available to interested First Nation community members. By April 2016, the province will have seven First Nation Circuit Rider Trainers out of a total of 15 Circuit Rider Trainers.
A member of the Siksika First Nation, located in Alberta, is now a professionally certified operator thanks, in part, to the mentoring of a Circuit Rider Trainer. He received hands on training in operations and maintenance for six months while simultaneously working toward his High School equivalency diploma (or GED) from the First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group (TSAG). The CRTP provided the new operator with training including the Alberta Water/Wastewater Association Small Water Systems Course and Small Wastewater Systems Course. After completing his training, the operator passed the Alberta Environment Certification Exam and is now a full time employee for Siksika Public Works.
The newly certified water operator continued to take advantage of what the CRTP offers and, in 2015, completed a package of safety courses, math for operators and level one water/wastewater operator’s course. The operator then passed the level one Alberta Environment Certification exam and is now in a position to help ensure the safety of the water and wastewater for his community.
WaterToday - How much is spent on funding the Circuit Rider Training Program?
INAC - INAC invests over $10 million annually to support the Circuit Rider Training Program.
Table: Circuit Rider Training Program by region. 2014/2015
ATLANTIC REGION - $938,000.00
QUEBEC REGION - $1,000,000.00
ONTARIO REGION - $885,461.00
MANITOBA REGION - $1,107,000.00
SASKATCHEWAN REGION - $2,072,899.45
ALBERTA REGION - $1,774,090.00
YUKON REGION - $370,000.00
BC REGION - $2,277,680.00
Grand Total - $10,425,130.45