Federal report confirms more funding needed to ensure safe water for First Nations

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Photo by Ben Sakanee

Thunder Bay – ABORIGINAL – Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Derek Fox said yesterday’s Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) report on Canada’s failure to provide the supports needed to ensure communities in First Nations’ access to clean drinking water must be met with firm funding commitments in the next federal budget.

“This report detailing the inadequate funding for the operation and maintenance of First Nations water systems is no surprise, but action must be taken. As identified by the PBO, operating and maintenance deficits are a major contributor to the failures of water and wastewater treatment plants, which keep some communities in perpetual crisis, ”said the great Chief Derek Fox. “We recognize that this government is committed to solving the water problems in our communities, but the lack of funding for operations and maintenance must be addressed in the next budget.

The report found that historical spending since 2016-2017 and planned spending until 2025-2026 is expected to be sufficient for capital needs, but not for O&M costs. He estimates that an additional $ 138 million should be spent each year to ensure that First Nations can properly operate and maintain water and sewer systems.

Lack of sufficient funding for operation and maintenance is one of the main causes of water problems on reserves. Indigenous Services Canada’s current Cost Reference Manual is an outdated document that does not capture the actual costs of operating and maintaining water and sewage infrastructure in First Nations communities.

There are currently seven short-term boil water advisories and 13 long-term advisories in effect in NAN territory. Neskantaga First Nation has been a member of a BWA for 26 years, the longest in Canada. Eabametoong First Nation has been part of a BWA since 2001, Muskrat Dam First Nation has been part of a BWA since 2003, and Wawakapewin First Nation since 2004. About 30 percent of the remaining long-term advisories relate to NAN communities.

The design and construction of water treatment and distribution systems in remote First Nations present unique challenges. The federal approach focuses on treatment plants, but does not always include distribution or ensuring that water is safe when it reaches homes. A source-to-tap approach ensures the supply of potable water from the treatment plant to all buildings in the community.

The 2018 NAN Infrastructure Assessment found that funding covers only about 44% of the actual costs of running and maintaining infrastructure in NAN communities.

Link to the PBO report: Drinking Water for First Nations: Is the Government Spending Enough?: https://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca

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