A First Nation located on the lake that is the source of Winnipeg's drinking water is raising concern that problems with its sewage-treatment plant could affect the lake's water quality.

Eli Mandamin, chief of the Shoal Lake No. 39 band (Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent First Nation), says the sewage-treatment plant has not had running water since it was built eight years ago.

"We're about two kilometres away from the sewage plant, and … you have no water up there to wash the building or to wash the workers that are there, to do the backwash," he said. "There's no water to run that. Not even running water to wash your hands with up there."

The lack of water has not allowed the band's members to wash filters at the plant, resulting in the system working at only half-capacity.

"We only got one of the pumps working now. There was two pumps, but one is in the shop now, and we have another one that's kind of on its last leg," he said.

If the system fails, Mandamin said, the treatment facility's lagoon could fill up, and raw sewage could then run into Shoal Lake, a 227-square-kilometre lake on the Manitoba-Ontario border that provides Winnipeg's drinking water. 

"That's why it's kind of an urgent situation. We don't want a Band-Aid solution. We want this particular situation looked after the way it should have been."

About 350 people live on the reserve.

Meeting scheduled

A meeting with federal officials about the issue will take place in Kenora, Ont., on Wednesday.

Water from Shoal Lake has been piped to Winnipeg through a 135-kilometre aqueduct for nearly 90 years.

Once the water arrives in Winnipeg, it is stored in the Deacon Reservoir, which can hold 8.8 billion litres — enough water to supply Winnipeg for about 20 days, city officials estimate.

The city uses chlorination to disinfect the water, adding it at Shoal Lake, Deacon Reservoir and at the pumping station that serves each neighbourhood.

Fluoride is also added to prevent tooth decay, as well as orthophosphate — in the form of food-grade phosphoric acid — to reduce exposure to lead through the corrosion of lead pipes.