The federal government has introduced a bill to regulate drinking water on First Nations reserves.

This proposed legislation, tabled in the Senate by Indian Affairs Minister Chuck Strahl, follows from the recommendations made by the auditor general's office, the expert panel on safe drinking water for First Nations and the standing Senate committee on aboriginal peoples.

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An abandoned house, which has been taken over by teens and is used as a clubhouse, sits on the Pikangikum First Nation, about 100 kilometres northwest of Red Lake, Ont. Ninety per cent of the homes in the community don't have running water or indoor toilets. ((John Woods/Canadian Press) )

The proposed safe drinking water for First Nations act would allow for the development of federal regulations for drinking water and wastewater to apply in First Nation communities.

Strahl also announced a two-year extension of the First Nations water and wastewater action plan, at a cost of $330 million.

"First Nations should expect, as do all Canadians, to have access to safe, clean drinking water," Strahl said.

Although legislation for drinking water and wastewater has been developed in provinces and territories, it does not exist in First Nation communities.

Since provinces and territories have existing regulations governing drinking water and wastewater, the federal government would review them to identify areas that can be adapted into federal regulations. At the same time, the law would allow for regional differences and recognize the unique water challenges facing many First Nation communities.

The proposed bill would:

  • Provide First Nation communities with drinking water and wastewater standards comparable with provincial or territorial standards off reserves.
  • Offer more opportunities for First Nation communities and municipalities to work together in areas such as training and sharing systems.
  • Establish a common base to evaluate the effectiveness of the operation, design and maintenance of water and wastewater systems.
  • Allow for regional flexibility, as federal regulations could vary from province to province and territory to territory.
With files from Chris Hall