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Water Today Title July 7, 2022

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Update 2017/5/8
First Nation water


By Cori Marshall

Health Canada (HC) and Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) share responsibility for reporting water advisories in First Nations communities. Earlier this year INAC and HC showcased the $1.8 billion over five years that is destined to ending all long-term drinking water advisories for on-reserve INAC supported systems by the beginning of the next decade.

The web page that displays the information regarding advisories in First Nations communities is operated by HC. Under the Conservative government, there was initially no reporting other than the total number of advisories across the nation. As of August 2105, reports became available but punctual information was hard to come by, in some cases, it could take up to ten weeks for updated information to be published. Under the Liberals, reporting has become more regular and detailed.

Dominique Poulin, who is the Manager of the Drinking Water Program for the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch, said that Health Canadaís role is to ensure "that drinking water monitoring is in place in First Nations communities." HC Environmental Health Officers conduct the on-site monitoring, the department will "provide funding to the community via the Community Based Drinking Water Monitoring Program," Poulin said. Through the program, funds would go to the individual who would be conducting the monitoring for the community.

Samples are collected either by the Environmental Health Officer or a community monitor, and "results [are] sent to HC," Poulin said. If test results exceed drinking water standards, Poulin added, that HC "will identify the concern and notify the Chief and Council." It is the First Nation itself that will issue any Drinking Water Advisory.

The new reporting format has added additional information pertaining to whether or not a system under advisory is supported by INAC. We spoke with Lise-Anne Bolduc, Director of Infrastructure Delivery of Water and Wastewater within INACís Regional Operations to find out what the new information represents.

Bolduc clarified that "INAC supports public systems on reserves, [it] does not support individual wells, or [those] that serve fewer than five connections." The new information that appears on the site reflects what systems INAC is financially involved with. Some of the systems represented on the advisory list are wells that serve one connection, or places like gas stations that have one connection but there is public access.

Reporting has been done on a monthly basis since the start of 2017. Reporting still is not being done in real time, what explains the lag in reporting time?

Annik Guertin, Senior Program Officer responsible for the data on the website, explained that "[they] try to take forty days," to post the updated information. A reason why the posting can take time is related to the community-based reporting. Guertin added that "sometimes they donít have access to real-time posting, this is something that we are trying to achieve, it is unfortunately not possible at this time."

Guertin said that information comes from "many different sources, it had to be compiled and then entered manually," both into the database and the web. Time is also spent ensuring that the information is accurate before it becomes public.

Progress has been made in dealing with the large numbers of long-term Drinking Water Advisories that affect First Nations Communities. Bolduc confirmed that there is "a list of 18," long-term advisories that have been addressed. The INAC website indicates that as of January 1, 2017, the long-term advisories that have been lifted since November 2015 is 4 in Atlantic Canada, 5 in Ontario, 4 in Saskatchewan and 5 in British Columbia (B.C.).

There may be discrepancies in the number of long-term advisories that have been removed and the actual report. Even though a system may be fixed it wouldnít be prudent to transmit the information to the public in haste. Bolduc underlines that "it takes time to do the right due diligence." Time must be taken to carry out tests and take samples to ensure that all parts of the system are working properly.

The provision and oversight of B.C. First Nations health is no longer overseen by HC, the federal department transferred its role to the First Nations Health Authority in 2013 as a result of the B.C. Tripartite Framework Agreement on First Nations Health Governance. As a result, the information on B.C. First Nations water systems are not included the HC advisory report. The Saskatoon Tribal Council information is also not included.

Guertin indicated that HC engaged with communities to propose to publicly post information about water advisories in First Nations communities on the internet. Guertin added that the Saskatoon Tribal Council "did not agree to [posting their information]," and this is the reason why this is absent from the HC First Nations Water Advisory report.

There have been improvements is the reporting system for First Nations Water systems. The federal government through INAC and HC have begun to address the staggering numbers of long-term water advisories. There is still room for improvement, the reasons why these systems are under advisory are still not listed.

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