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What factors lead to First Nations boil water advisories? Recent study mines the data

A recent study offers insight into the range of factors that must be considered, as the federal government pursues its goal of eliminating long-term boil water advisories on First Nations by the year 2021.

Operator training, source water protection key to avoiding, reducing length of advisories

The federal government has promised to end long-term boil water advisories on First Nations. (File photo)
An expert in water supply risk says his research points to the need to prioritize water system operator training, in efforts to eliminate boil water advisories on First Nations.Ed McBean is a professor at the University of Guelph 7:41

A recent study offers insight into the range of factors that must be considered as the federal government pursues its goal of eliminating long-term boil water advisories on First Nations by 2021. 

"It's going to be difficult. There's no one solution," said Ed McBean, a professor of water resources and university research leadership chair at the University of Guelph, and one of the authors of the report.

But the research indicates that infrastructure investments alone won't do the trick. 

McBean said that after analyzing a slew of historical data, it's evident that operator certification and training are key to preventing advisories and limiting the duration when they do happen. 

"It came out loud and long that well-trained operators would be helpful," he said. 

Certifying and retaining operators, especially in remote First Nations, can be a huge challenge, McBean acknowledged. Some promising programs are being created, but there's more to be done.

One thing he'd like to see is more ongoing support for operators after they are certified.

In many communities, there may only be one person with the expertise to run a water treatment plant. An online network where they could consult with other experts might be one way to help, he said. 

In addition to operator training, the report also highlights the importance of protecting source water quality, McBean said, noting that small treatment plants in Indigenous communities won't have the same number of barriers to contamination as those in larger centres.

The report found that drinking water advisories were more frequent in systems drawing from surface water. 

The report, titled "A decade of drinking water advisories: Historical evidence of frequency, duration and causes," was published in the Canadian Water Resources Journal.