British Columbia

B.C. First Nation seeking support during state of emergency over water supply

The Ahousaht First Nation declared a local state of emergency after noticing contamination and critical water levels in its reservoir

Officials say leak to blame for critical water shortage, with reservoir at 34% capacity

Contaminated water in the Ahousaht reservoir. (Ahousaht)

Government agencies and the District of Tofino are pulling together to help the Ahousaht First Nation which is currently in a local state of emergency over its water supply. 

On Sunday, contamination was detected in its reservoir and a boil water advisory went into effect for the remote First Nation, located on a small island north of Tofino, B.C.

Later, officials noticed that the reservoir was at 34 per cent capacity, which is unusual given the heavy rain the area experienced on the weekend.

Chief Greg Louie says it was not immediately apparent what had caused the low reservoir levels even after they inspected the dam area from helicopter.

Indigenous Services Canada provided support over the phone with engineers and water systems specialists early in the week and say the cause is likely a leak that the band is now working on fixing.

They will also look for other leaks in the reservoir and ISC is working with the community on reserve to provide more assistance and water testing.

Ahousaht's elderly have been transported to Tofino, and officials are concerned about limited firefighting abilities because of the lack of water.

"The precautionary state of emergency is really around the firefighting I think," said Scott Fraser, minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, and the MLA for the Mid Island-Pacific Rim region.

"If there was a structure fire in the community, the ability to be able to fight that is in question"

Fraser said they're working with the First Nations Health Authority, Emergency Management B.C., and the District of Tofino to support the community.

Meanwhile, Louie says Ahousaht's location makes it difficult to find alternative water supplies.

"If our water goes here, then that's it."

This is not the first time the First Nation has faced a critical water situation. In 2016, a broken pipe cut off the water supply. 

This time, boats have been shipping water to Ahousaht from Tofino.

A Cermaq spokesperson says the fish farm company has provided a barge and shipped approximately 11,000 gallons of water in large capacity storage tanks and around 600 water-cooler jugs of sealed potable water to Ahousaht.

Khalsa Aid Canada has purchased water bottles and hand sanitizer to send to the island.

The international charity typically provides aid during natural disasters and war zones, but also has local teams including one in Port Alberni.

Director Jatinder Singh says his organization celebrated an existing partnership with the Ahousaht last month and committed $200,000 for youth development and search and rescue capabilities.

"This in part to us is more than just a mission of getting water to them. It's also: you are now part of our family and if we can help you, we will help you."

And Singh says they are prepared to continue offering that support.

"If they turn around and say to us 'we need more assistance,' we will provide that … if, down the road, there's still issues with the reservoir, and they still need more help, we will certainly step in and help."

Emergency Management B.C. has also responded to a request from Ahousaht with short term Emergency Social Services.

In the meantime, residents are advised to begin collecting water in their homes and set up rainwater catchment.