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Water Today Title June 29, 2022

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Advisory of the Day



"All Canadians - including First Nations - should have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water." That's the first line of a December 6, government news release, entitled, "Toosey First Nation turns on the tap to a new drinking water system". Two month later the tap is still off.

The Toosey First Nation is located in the Fraser Canyon region of BC, it has been under a boil water advisory since November 2004.

We spoke with the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) to see how the project has progressed, and what caused the initial advisory. According to the FNHA the reason behind the 2004 boil water notice was the microbiological quality of the source water and issues with the distribution system.

The new system consists of a well, treatment plant and distribution, a question still remained wether the new system supplies all of the community. According to the FNHA "the system has been installed and supplies all existing connections." The system is presently being commissioned, the process verifies "the proper functioning of the equipment."

The boil notice has not been rescinded, and is still visible on the FNHA website. The FNHA responded to this by stating that the advisory "will be lifted once the system is fully functioning and water quality standards are being met." The completion of the commissioning process should see the Boil Water Notice lifted.

When asked about plans to deal with the remaining drinking water advisories the FNHA responded "FNHA, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), and First Nations have been working closely together for many years to address the advisories that exist." The way in which these advisories are resolved can be complicated by the many levels of bureaucracy that are involved. FNHA continued, "most of the long term advisories have been in place because the solutions are not simple."

There are obstacles in addressing the water advisories effecting First Nations communities in B.C., one is the number of systems that have to be monitored. We learned that the FNHA "currently monitors 283 community water systems, [and] 47 public water systems. This is for all 193 First Nations in the province.

To further complicate the issue, an "advisory can affect as little as one building, [and] does not always represent a community-wide drinking water problem." The reasons for the preventative measures can vary. According to the FNHA an advisory can be in effect due to equipment issues or problems with the source water.

The way in which the present system works, "First Nations Chiefs are responsible for planning and development of capital facilities" this includes drinking water distribution systems. Further the local community leadership is responsible for the " day-to-day operation of water systems", this includes sampling and testing. The FNHA acts in a supporting role to First Nations Communities.

INAC is in charge of "funding infrastructure projects to address water needs and to maintain existing systems." INAC also supports First Nations communities water systems through the Circuit Rider Training Program. The program is designed to "assist water treatment plant operators with system operation and troubleshooting."

The Government of Canada made a $3.1 million investment in the Riske Creek project. The funds directed to the Toosey First Nation infrastructure project included $1.5 million from the 2016 federal budget. The Canadian government reserved large sums of money in the 2016 budget for First Nation's on-reserve water and wastewater infrastructure. The federal government has earmarked $1.8 billion over five years for these types of projects. The allocations include $141.7 million over the same period for monitoring and testing.

"We haul it all by hand so it's a bit of a workout," she said, "so nobody need a gym pass these days."

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