British Columbia

After 15 years on a boil advisory, the Semiahmoo First Nation is finally getting potable water

The Semiahmoo First Nation — which has been on a boil water advisory for the past 15 years — has finally struck a deal that will provide potable water and sewer services to the community.

The SFN now has a deal in place that will allow it to connect to Surrey’s water supply

Semiahmoo First Nation band member Samantha Wells pours boiled water into a cup. (Jesse Johnston/CBC)

The Semiahmoo First Nation — which has been on a boil water advisory for the past 15 years — has finally struck a deal that will provide potable water and sewer services for the community.

Chief Harley Chappell signed an agreement this week with the City of Surrey at a council meeting.

"It's an emotional day," Chappell said before he sang a celebratory song.

"It almost brings tears to my eyes."

Now that a deal is in place with the city, Chappell is confident the SFN can proceed with the substantial infrastructure upgrades that are needed.

He says if all goes as planned, they will be in a position to connect to Surrey's water system next spring.

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"My whole life, our community has been struggling for basic necessities of potable water and sewer," he said.

'Its a historic moment'

The SFN currently gets its water from White Rock, but its deal with the municipality expires at the end of 2019.

"No one in this day and age should be without potable water," said Mayor Linda Hepner.

"I'm just overjoyed that we can accommodate that and watch the success of your Nation as you go forward."

Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell, front, and band councillor Joanne Charles, rear, sing a song at Surrey City Hall. (City of Surrey)

Chappell arrived at council chambers Monday evening with Mabel Charles, who at 89 is the SFN's eldest member.

Charles' late brother, Grand Chief Bernard Charles, started discussions about a possible water agreement with the city in the 1970s.

"Mabel has been waiting her whole adult life for this to happen," Chappell said.

"It's a historic moment for us."

Councillor Tom Gill, who was part of negotiations with the city, says the city had a rocky relationship with the SFN in the past.

He says it was an emotional moment to see Charles in attendance when the deal was signed.

"I'm humbled to be a part of this team that got this resolved," he said.

"It's a real tear-jerker for me to be able to get something so important done."

Semiahmoo First Nation Chief Harley Chappell and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner sign an agreement for water services. (City of Surrey)

Fire threat

The SFN's 172 hectares nestled next to White Rock Beach on the Semiahmoo Peninsula is home to more than 40 band members and approximately 265 non-members.

Chappell says a fire would be catastrophic to the community.

"At present, the only way fire protection can happen is through a pumper truck," he said.

"Obviously, that becomes a real issue at this time of year when things are tinder dry."

Chappell says once the infrastructure is in place, they will be able to install fire hydrants.

The SFN received more than $300,000 from the federal government last year to design a new water distribution and wastewater system.

Discussions about additional funding are ongoing, but Chappell says he's confident the money will soon be in place.

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