Providing safe drinking water on reserves is simple. Just do it

Posted on October 14, 2015 in Equality Delivery System – Globe Debate/Editorials
Oct. 13, 2015.   Editorial

Last January, there were 1,669 Canadian towns under drinking water advisories. By far the most common were advisories to boil tap water for a minute before consuming it.

Thankfully, these advisories are usually lifted quickly, because municipalities are governed by provincial regulations that define clear lines of responsibility and lay out rules on how to respond to problems. It’s rare for DWAs to last more than a few weeks.

On native reserves, however, they can go on for decades. It’s easy to see why.

Drinking water on reserves is a federal jurisdiction. Ottawa provides 80 per cent of the funding; the local councils build and maintain the systems and are responsible for training the operators and doing regular testing.

So far, so good. But a complex set of regulations from three federal departments (Aboriginal Affairs, Health Canada and Environment Canada), combined with ambiguous guidelines regarding responsibility and enforcement – not to mention the inevitable squabbles over sovereignty – means problems can persist for years.

As a result, in July there were 133 Health Canada drinking water advisories in 126 First Nations communities. Ninety-three of them have been in place for more than two years. One-quarter have been ongoing for more than 10 years. And in a few communities, native residents have been boiling water since the 1990s.

These problems persist in spite of billions of dollars committed in federal budgets for the past 20 years ($3.5-billion from 1995 to 2008 alone, according to Aboriginal Affairs), as well as a 2013 federal law streamlining regulations and oversight. The failure to provide safe drinking water on reserves has become chronic.

This has to end. The next federal government should do an immediate audit of every troubled reserve system. It should then work directly with communities to fix the worst cases, and move on to the less urgent ones after that. If there are issues of sovereignty, local native governments and Ottawa should put them off until after the water is safe to drink.

Every Canadian needs clean drinking water. It’s not a complicated position, morally or technically. The money is there and the problems are fixable. No more excuses.

< >

Tags: , , , ,

This entry was posted on Wednesday, October 14th, 2015 at 1:34 pm and is filed under Equality Delivery System. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

2 Responses to “Providing safe drinking water on reserves is simple. Just do it”

  1. Leigh says:

    I think the larger question at hand is why it takes longer on native reservations for water drinking advisories to be lifted or for water treatment plants to be constructed to provide clean drinking water. To give reason that there are too many complex set of federal regulations and ambiguous guidelines regarding responsibility and enforcement and expected squabbles over sovereignty is the reason it takes decades to provide clean drinking water to Canadian citizens is a horrible reality that no one seems to want to see!! I have seen Canadian outreach programs create safe drinking water in third world countries faster then we can provide clean drinking water to the indigenous people of our own country. Why do the needs of Aboriginal peoples go unheard, why do we as a country turn our head when it comes to Aboriginal issues; perhaps it is because assimilation and colonization for Aboriginal peoples of Canada still exits. It is time to wake up Canada!
    The current conservative federal government has made it very clear that Aboriginal issues are on the back burner and that is where they will stay. I would love nothing more than the current government to look at my mother’s multitude of scabs across her body from bathing and swimming in the water where the acid plant stood steps from the water’s edge on our land! I would love the government to explain the above reasoning to my cousins who are boiling water while there children cry with a need. The part that gets to me is that my reservation just got a water treatment plant in September of 2015 and because of the mentioned bureaucracy in this article; we are still under a boil water advisory.
    I want to thank you for bringing needed attention to this issue and I firmly agree the problem is easily solved and this does have to end.

    Leigh Simpson


Leave a Reply