British Columbia

More water woes for B.C.'s Semiahmoo First Nation

The Semiahmoo First Nation appears to have finally solved its need for a long term water supply but it’s the uncertainty of what will happen in the short term that has band members concerned.

Major infrastructure upgrades are needed before the band can connect to Surrey's water system

Semiahmoo First Nation Band Councillor Joanne Charles says her reserve has been under a boil water advisory for years. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

The Semiahmoo First Nation appears to have solved its need for a long-term water supply, but band members are concerned about short-term access.

Right now, the First Nation's agreement to get its water from White Rock expires in February 2018. The Semiahmoo community is located between White Rock and the U.S.-B.C. border.

The City of Surrey, B.C., says it can provide the reserve with water after the deal runs out, but staff say major upgrades are needed before that can happen.

"We have to replace the whole water system here on the reserve," said Semiahmoo Coun. Joanne Charles.

Old infrastructure

The First Nation's water and sewer systems are outdated and inadequate, which is why the 43 band members who live on the reserve have been on a boil-water advisory for years.

In a report to Surrey council, Fraser Smith, the city's general manger of engineering, said changing the community's service provider from White Rock to Surrey won't remove the boil advisory.

"Their boil water advisory is related to the condition of their onsite distribution system."

Replacing the system will be a long and expensive process.

"Design drawings for the actual sewer system and water system are being constructed right now," Charles said.

She said the plan is to start construction on a new sewer system in about six months. She believes it will be early next summer before the reserve is ready to tap into Surrey's water system.

Until then, she hopes the band will be able to extend its deal with White Rock.

Fire concerns

The biggest concern on the reserve is a lack of fire protection.

Charles says if there's a big fire on the reserve, crews will have to split their time between keeping the water tank on the truck full and dousing the flames.

"Two pumper trucks would have to come," she said.

"One thousand gallon tank pumper track tries to put out a fire, and the other pumper truck runs back and forth to the fire hydrant to fill that other tank up."