First Nations Water
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MINISTIKWAN WATER PLANT UP AND RUNNING WHILE BWA STILL ON,
PIPES DETERIORATE AND COMMUNITY GROWS TO DISTRUST ITS TAP WATER
WaterToday.ca with Strider Lacosse, Band Manager
Post Script by Councillor Rose Ahenakew
Ministikwan Lake Cree Nation
April 21, 2021
Interview with Band Manager, Strider Lacosse. The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.
WT - Strider Lacosse is on the phone with me from Ministikwan Cree Nation. I would like to thank you for doing this Strider.
Lacosse - Youíre welcome.
WT - Can you tell me a little about your community before I get into the water side of this?
Lacosse - Okay, well just to be clear, I am not actually from Ministikwan Lake, you know that right?
WT - No, I didnít and thatís fair enough. I am hoping you can tell me a little about the size of your community, where it is, and what you do there?
Lacosse - The community is just roughly over 1,000 people and what I do there is I am a ďrecipient-appointed advisorĒ that is there to assist with finance and administration capacity building.
WT - When you talk about finance and capacity building can you tell me the situation that you were called in for?
Lacosse - When we were introduced to Ministikwan they were behind on someÖ the government always sends little red flags and tells them once they reach a certain point in going backwards financially. You are required to bring in a recipient-appointed advisor to assist on taking care of bills and having a plan to get back into the black. They brought us in 2019 to help them with that.
WT - What is the problem with the water as it stands right now?
Lacosse - Well actually; thereís nothing wrong with the water right now. It is almost complete; the water treatment plant was supposed to be finished on March 31st. It's not done yet, it had some complications, engineering issues. So, it's been extended but actually the water itself, we are not having problems with it. I think if anythingís wrong with it, it's got a high level of organics.
WT - What do the people do currently for water, are they using water from the plant thatís not operating yet or how does that work?
Lacosse - Well yeah, they use the water. There is a water treatment plant; thereís an old one thatís still functional, albeit maybe at 50% of capacity, and the new one is not quite at full capacity, but the water is still treated. All the reports that weíve had back, testing the samples that have been done, havenít indicated thatís thereís fecal coliforms, or bacteria or chemicals or anything like that.
WT - Given what youíve just told me, the health unit has the community under a boil water advisory. How come its under a boil water advisory if the water is okay? What would your logic be?
Lacosse - What theyíve told us is they are required to give us the advisory because the system is not fully up and running yet, and when they back-wash filters or if they put a new water line into service, they have to let it clear itself out. So, they never get past the point of having the plant fully functional. Thereís sediment in the lines or thereís always something keeping them from fully giving the green light or official stamp of approval. So they are in that cautionary phase all the time even though they tell us the water is okay, they will not give full approval. I donít know, if youíve ever run into that before.
WT - Okay so the health unit says do not drink the water and you are saying that folks do drink the water and thereís nothing wrong with it, so far as you can see?
Lacosse - Well from what we have been told, I just have to go with what they tell me, they say thereís a boil advisory, its supposed to be boiled water that is used. We take water out of the taps to make coffee.
WT - I am hoping to find out how much this water plant cost, and if the water plant is new and up and running, are the pipes in the community okay? Is the infrastructure there to support a new water plant?
Lacosse - Yeah, thatís a good question. Thereís been a couple of failures of the water lines, usually happens in the spring. I would say itís getting near time to replace the lines. Weíve actually approached ISC and made a capital application to do water line replacements and sewer line replacements in the community, because itís been so long since itís been done.
WT - Whats the time frame to get the infrastructure replaced? Given that this water plant will be putting out clean water and the infrastructure isnít necessarily where it needs to be?
Lacosse - You know what? We wouldnít even know, and I have asked the engineers, all depends on ISC timeline, ISC budgets, whatever theyíre approving. They do projects in waves, so I imagine the next wave after upgrading a water plant should be, like you said, to upgrade the services behind it and in front if it. So, I am hoping that its something that gets approved.
WT - Would you estimate a year or two?
Lacosse - I would say it would be two years before they even started on it, if we asked today. And then probably three years to finish it.
WT - So, they could conceivably be under boil water advisory for the full 5 years, or is that how it works? They say, okay your water plant is good, the infrastructure is not good, does the health unit then say, okay the BWA stays on, or do you have any idea how that works?
Lacosse - You know what, I donít know exactly what the parameters are. The water techs and engineers would be a better source of information on that for sure. Fresh water is just from the intake to treatment center/ treatment plant and as far as I know those lines are good, and so as long as those lines are good and the treatment plant is up and running, then I think the water lines, I am not talking from engineerís perspective, I imagine the water lines would be, I donít know, alright, I guess.
WT - Has a water operator been hired, someone that can run the plant for the community?
Lacosse - There is a water plant operator. Thereís actually, I think, three right now, or four that are getting trained as water plant operators because the new plant will have a higher demand of hours to be put into the building to monitor everything. So, they do need a little more backup and a little more training. The new plant is a little more complicated than the old one, a higher degree of skill is needed to operate the new one.
WT - From your point of view, does the community trust their water, the water plant and whatís gone on to this point? Do you think the community would have no issue filling up a glass of water and having a drink from the water plant that exists now and the future water plant? Do the people trust the water?
Lacosse - It is a mixed community in that sense, a lot of people use it without question and some people are leery of it. But overall, everyone drinks the water one way or another. A lot of people do use bottled water, it's true, a lot of elders buy bottled water. So, I mean its tough right, some people donít have a choice, what they drink.
WT - Given that you know about the finances of the band, any idea what the amount of money spent on bottled water a year would be?
Lacosse - No, most people buy it themselves. I know the band does, from time to time, have a little stockpile of bottled water just in case somebodyís water line does go down, or thereís an issue with the water. Before this new plant was up and they were having issues with the plant shutting down and water not being delivered to the community. So, there was a water supply, like those big 18-liter jugs were stashed in the band office for people, I donít know what the annual cost would be, maybe ten thousand, fifteen thousand dollars, just for the band itself.
WT - Would you say then at points this community did not have access to bottled water, or water that wasnít under a BWA?
Lacosse - Well there was no time the community wouldnít have had any access to bottled water, they may not have had water at home, but they always had the ability to have it delivered on short notice when these things would happen.
WT - So, its worrisome in 2021 people still need to call and get emergency bottled water is somewhat dismaying.
Lacosse - Youíre absolutely right, I think the government is doing everything that they can to move it along. The government process isnít always as efficient as we would expect or want it to be, right?
WT - If you had 1 thing to say to Minister Miller about all this, what would it be?
Lacosse - I donít know, it would probably be a long conversation. I would probably tell him he should talk to the community and find out firsthand from the Chief and council and elders.
WT - I would like to thank you Strider for doing this. I appreciate your time.
Councillor Rose Ahenakew was asked to comment, whether the people of Ministikwan Lake trust the water, her response is below.
Councillor Ahenakew - I donít think the people trust the water. Our community, the water has been, for a few years now, on a water advisory, so, it will take time for them to trust the water, because of the water advisory they have been having. And also, they have been buying water, water bottles.
With this new water coming, especially Mutie Lake, (another part of the community) their water is really bad, it goes brown, but now with this new water treatment plant, its going to be way different for them, Iím sure they will be happy, they will trust the water.
Some maybe wonít trust it, because its been a while, its been like this, it will take time, to trust the water. Thatís all I can say.
The saga of long-term water advisories in First Nations communities
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