Nearly three-quarters of first nations in Canada rely on water systems that are classified at a medium or high risk of not meeting safety standards, a national study finds.

The independent report examined the drinking water and wastewater systems on nearly 600 first nations.

Just over one-third were classified in the high risk category.

John Duncan, the federal minister of aboriginal affairs, said the report was identifying risk and stressed the findings do not mean water is currently unfit to drink.

"Only about 30 per cent of the high risk is from either the source-water or the design," Duncan said Thursday in Saskatoon where he released the report.

He said the most prevalent issue identified was the need for training people on how to operate a water system.

"The rest is all to do with operation and monitoring and reporting in this survey," Duncan said. "So that means we know where to focus a good part of our energy."

The report was commissioned two years ago.

Duncan said the federal government will use the findings to determine priorities for spending in the future.

In 2005 the federal Auditor General reported that water systems on first nations required attention, noting that "when it comes to the safety of drinking water, residents of First Nations communities do not benefit from a level of protection comparable with that of people living off reserves."