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Water Today Title July 7, 2022

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Update 2017/10/12
First Nation Water


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By Ronan O'Doherty

It has been four years since First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) assumed the programs, services, and responsibilities formerly handled by Health Canada's First Nations Inuit Health Branch – Pacific Region.

They were the first such province wide organisation to do so after deciding that the gaps in health care first nations people were receiving versus what other British Columbia residents were receiving were far too large.

The change occurred with a couple key political agreements, notably the Transformative Change Accord and the Tripartite First Nations Health Plan that were hashed out between the provincial and federal government and a number of First Nations groups, including British Columbia Assembly of First Nations, First Nations Summit, Assembly of First Nations and the Union of BC Chiefs.

The Transformative Change Accord outlines the gaps in health and social equity between First Nations and other BC residents mentioned above.

It was put together once the voices of the communities started to say that they believed that they could deliver services for their people more adequately than the way the federal government was, through the First Nations and Inuit Health (FNIH) branch.

The Tripartite First Nations health plan outlined the context of transitioning FNIH to a new First Nations Health Authority.

This lead to the start of an engagement process on behalf of First Nations Health Council to liaise with communities and start the decision making process around transfer and transition while confirming that the communities which were going to be supported were in agreement.

Through these plans and accords it was decided that it was a good idea to create a new First Nations governance structure.

This included the First Nations Health Council, who are responsible for political engagement among chiefs in BC as well as liaising with the province and federal government. They are the ultimate decision making mechanism.

Secondly, the First Nations Health Directors Association was created. This was made up of people who are working in the health centres. They're the technical experts who oversee the delivery of services to the community and come up with front line best practices.

Included in those services is a commitment to working towards ensuring safe drinking water for all First Nations residents.

As of publication, FNHA currently monitors 285 community water systems with 5 or more connections and 49 public water systems that may have fewer than 5 connections and include public facilities across 193 First Nations in British Columbia.

According to the latest reports, there are 14 Boil Water Advisories and six Do Not Consume advisories affecting 18 First Nation communities in British Columbia.

Although the results haven't been finalized for 2017, last year saw a total of seven boil water advisories that had been active for longer than a year finally lifted as well as one Do Not Consume advisory.

Other interesting facts that are available on the annual report include 71 community-based water monitors (CBWMs) trained and almost 39,000 microbiological samples collected and analyzed from community, public and individual water systems by those CBWMs in conjunction with FNHA environmental health officers (EHO).

"Community-based water monitors (CBWMs) support local capacity to monitor water quality and to increase awareness and ownership of water systems," said Linda Pillsworth, Manager of Environmental Public Health Services - First Nations Health Authority , in an email to this reporter," Water monitors play a key role as those responsible for sampling, testing, recording and communicating the microbiological quality of treated water in communities. FNHA EHOs train water monitors to sample and test the drinking water for potential bacteriological contamination using community lab equipment (Colilert®). WaterTrax®, an internet-based data management system, is used to manage all drinking water quality data to which the CBWM, Band Administration, and the Drinking Water Safety Program (DWSP) team have access. Community-based drinking water programs have been established for all interested communities. Water monitors are also responsible for developing and implementing a drinking water quality awareness program. The water monitor may be a community health representative (CHR), water treatment plant operator (WTPO), or another individual selected by Chief and Council. If a community does not have a water monitor, their work may be done by an EHO or an FNHA environmental health technician. FNHA currently provides funding for 179 communities for the Drinking Water Safety Program with approximately 206 trained CBWMs."

In addition to water quality monitoring activities, the Drinking Water Safety Program (DWSP) also provides funding for Water Awareness initiatives (WAI) for First Nations communities.

According to Pillsworth, "The WAI is a proposal-based funding initiative whereby communities can submit a proposal to receive funding to stage a fun and educational event that informs the community of various aspects of their drinking water which can include, source water, treatment, distribution and conservation measures. The DWSP will also fund increased or special sampling on a case-by case basis where it is warranted to ensure public health and water quality objectives and guidelines are met."

As per the annual report, the investment in these programs last year was $85,455.

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