SK FIRST NATIONS ORGANISATION ENSURING WATER QUALITY FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
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By Ronan O'Doherty
In 1995, the Saskatoon Tribal Council (STC) took over the environmental health program for seven First Nations communities from Health Canada.
Since the takeover, they've carried on a Safe Drinking Water program that they use to ensure the communities supported have access to the best drinking water possible.
Laura Parenteau has been with STC since the takeover and is now the Environmental Health Program Manager.She supports a staff of three, which includes an environmental health officer and two water quality monitiors.
The communities she and her staff support are anywhere from a 30 minute drive to a two and a half hour drive from Saskatoon and include; Kinistin Saulteaux Nation, Mistawasis First Nation, Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Muskoday First Nation, One Arrow First Nation, Whitecap Dakota First Nation, and Yellow Quill First Nation.
"I oversee the whole program and manage it," she said on a phone interview with this reporter, "I also have some field responsibilities especially to do with drinking water. The program involves lots of inspections in the communities including food handling at community facilities like school and daycares as well as maintenance of the infrastructure of water treatment plants, community solid waste sites and community sewage systems. We also do health related housing inspections and lots of community education when it comes to safe handling of food and WHMIS (Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System).
According STCs annual report for 2016/2017, program staff completed 124 facility inspections and made 19 community presentations. The water monitors under Parenteau, conducted 2,822 bacterial water samples and 5,631 chlorine tests in STC member communities. While the monitors take the samples, Parenteau said that the results are provided by external labs, which perform the testing.
Residents of 165 homes continue to face long-term water quality issues because of the structural condition of wells, cisterns and outside holding tanks.
Those getting water from the treatment plants have had cause to be satisfied.
"It's been over a period of years and evolving over time but four of our communities have state of the art water treatment plants that have biological treatment as well as membrane treatment of their drinking water, which provides a very high quality product."
Another water treatment plant is in process as well as some infrastructure upgrades for other communities to bring all communities up to par.
"It's good to see and people have been pretty happy with it overall," said Parenteau.
In addition to the infrastructure improvements, the program also helped support the Muskoday First Nation through a water emergency this summer. An oil spill by the Husky Energy Company in the North Saskatchewan River forced the City of Prince Albert, who supply water to the community, to shut down its intake, which resulted in the community declaring a state of emergency.
Water trucks had to be utilized to keep the reservoirs full and a conservation plan needed to be acted upon until the situation could be remedied.
The community, with the support of STC and INAC is now building a new treatment plant.