Water contamination risk at native reserves

A survey by Health Canada and Indian Affairs has found 10 per cent of native reserves are at risk of contamination of their water system.

The report found many water managers on reserves lack training. In light of the Walkerton, Ont., disaster, federal officials say they are looking at revamping water management on reserves.

Last May, seven people died and more than 2,000 fell ill after drinking E.Coli-contaminated water. Walkerton's water manager Stan Koebel told an inquiry he wasn't trained for his job.

"Some existing community water systems do not meet the guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality, some First Nation communities may be at risk," says the Health Canada document.

The research discovered many reserves do not employ certified or trained people to run their plants. And, there are no regulations to test the people who operate those plants.

Not only that, many systems just didn't measure up to proper standards.

The Yellowquill First Nation in northern Saskatchewan has been on a boil-water order for four years because its reservoir is filled with runoff from farm fields.

Some 16 communities in Saskatchewan have an "open system" in which treated water is trucked to and stored at a reservoir on the reserve.

"Samples from water trucks and cisterns over the past five years revealed frequent coliform contamination," says the study. This type of system increases the risk of contamination at every step.

Health Canada is responsible for monitoring the water quality of treatment plants on native reserves, while plant operators are required to tell band authorities about equipment malfunctions.

Gilles Rochon is the director general for community development at Indian Affairs. He says none of the problems require any immediate changes.

Rochon says there is a five-year plan to make the needed alterations to the system.