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ONIGAMING FIRST NATION ON THE BRINK OF A WATER CRISIS
Approximately 113 km North of Fort Frances and 120 km south of Kenora near Nestor Falls, the Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation is looking to create a much needed community rejuvenation as the population shows signs of bursting at the seams.
WaterToday spoke with Band Council Member Bill Arch about the upgrades in infrastructure to the community’s buildings and water treatment plant. “I was elected in August, 2019, and I took it under my wing to make the water plant my priority.”
As the community continues to grow and is working at overcoming a past suicide crisis situation, Arch fears they are on the brink of a new crisis – water.
“Our issues are not in terms of water quality,” Arch continues, “but in terms of water quantity. Our Water Plant Manager has been very diligent for years and our samples reported to Health Canada have always shown a high standard of water quality. But we will not have enough water to serve any expansion of our community.”
And it is expanding with an average yearly jump of 320. “We have so many latent issues in our community. The daycare, the school, the recreational facilities – everything is outdated. We can’t keep up with 6-7 new houses being built a year and it is creating a strain on our water supply.”
The problem with the water treatment plant is its age. “We need to replace so many parts and that is difficult since we can’t get them.” Most parts that are compatible with the system are no longer being manufactured. “Our computer system is outdated, the parts needed for the control panel are obsolete.”
Onigaming engaged the services of an engineering firm for a feasibility study. “Their proposal assessment came to $5 million.”
Arch adds that an application was submitted January 20, 2020, for a new stream of funding but no one assessed the need for water capacity.
According to Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) Green Infrastructure, Green Stream, Ontario.ca website, “the intake of the Green Stream will focus on bringing infrastructure investments to small communities across Ontario focusing on improving water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure.” In regard to applications the website states: “The application deadline of October, 2019, is closed.”
WaterToday reached out to Indigenous Services Canada to enquire about the Green Infrastructure Canada’s mission “to ensure that Canada’s communities are healthy and productive places to live.”
In an emailed response to our questions, WaterToday learned from ISC spokesperson, William Olscamp:
“ISC works in partnership with First Nations to address their water infrastructure needs. The water system at the Ojibways of Onigaming First Nation is not currently on a drinking water advisory and the 2018-2019 Annual Performance Inspection noted that the system was considered low risk and has sufficient water capacity for the foreseeable future. The First Nation has not submitted a request to ISC for funding for a new water treatment plant.”
Olscamp’s statement continues, “The Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program: Green Stream is administered by the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Infrastructure through a bi-lateral agreement with Infrastructure Canada. ISC is not aware of an application submitted by Ojibways of Onigaming under this program.”
Arch adds that he spoke with a spokesperson from ISC but only briefly regarding the water capacity. “There were so many other issues regarding our community’s infrastructure. It’s a big feat.”
“I am looking at when and how to engage funding over the next five years geared to our water plant. Red Gut First Nation is 40 km East of Fort Frances. They were fortunate enough to receive funding for a new water plant.” The previous plant was the same vintage as Onigaming’s plant and Red Gut was experiencing the same issues.
“Nigigoonsiminikaaning First Nation (Red Gut) applied for the Small Communities Fund program for upgrades to their existing water treatment plant,” Olscamp told WT. “The Small Communities Fund is administered by the Province of Ontario’s Ministry of Infrastructure through a bi-lateral agreement with Infrastructure Canada and is no longer accepting applications.”
“Perhaps two or three years down the road it will be possible,” Arch says. “The big question though is can we last that long.”
Onigaming Water Treatment Plant
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