11 BWAS LIFTED AFTER 14 YEARS IN SLATE FALLS OJIBWE COMMUNITY, ON
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By Stuart Smith
Eleven long-term drinking water advisories were lifted at the beginning of February in Slate Falls, northern Ontario, as a new water treatment plant and distribution system were completed.
The Ojibwe First Nation community, located 120km north of Sioux Lookout, has not had a clean drinking water supply since 2004. This, explained Valerie Hache from Indigenous Services Canada, occurred when Health Canada issued 11 BWAs having "identified issues" with the 11 individual pump houses drawing water from the Bamaji Lake.
She explained that the new $11.6 million system, which has been in development since 2006, will provide clean and dependable drinking water for up to 400 residents. It will also supply the Bimaychikamah Elementary School, a health centre, a nurses' residence and the First Nation Administration Building. In addition, it will enhance fire protection capacity with the installation of additional fire hydrants and pumps.
Valerie was unable to give a specific reason for why the project took twelve years to complete but allowed that this was normal for such a large and complex project in a remote community.
Chief Lorrain Crane, who spoke to WaterToday over the phone, expressed relief at its completion and excitement for the upcoming opening ceremony: "After so many years of dealing with the boil water advisory, I am very excited to have a grand opening ceremony on March 6th. We have some ministers...and other leaders coming to celebrate with the community,"
Minister for Indigenous Services, Jane Philpott, who will be attending this ceremony, was unavailable for comment on Friday. But she has commended residents for their perseverance and the leadership of Chief Lorraine Crane in the past.
Before the new water system become operational this February, the First Nation had distributed non-potable (hygienic use only) water to residential units via nine pump houses. And drinking water was made available from a reverse osmosis unit installed in 2008, which was equipped with storage capability and a bottle filling station.
Andrew MacKendrick, from the Office of the Honourable Jane Philpott's, explained why he thought this project was so exciting. "As opposed to fixing 11 separate drinking water advisories, this is a brand new system that connects everything. So, it's actually replacing 11 different systems. If you can think of other situations around the country where perhaps we're going into one community and fixing one advisory, this is a matter of a project that actually creates a new system, connects it all, and then takes all these other advisories off."
Not everyone was quite as enthusiastic though. When we asked one resident how it will make a difference to him personally, he told us "Well it hasn't really changed anything. I still get my water from the back pond."
The conclusion of this project means there are now 81 boil water advisories on indigenous reserves still requiring resolution by the March 2021 goal, set by the Ministry of Indigenous Services. They have managed to resolve 52 advisories since November 2015.
A comprehensive, interactive map of the 81 remaining, long-term (greater than one year) boil water advisories can be found here
A to Z
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