British Columbia

Ucluelet First Nation could be without potable water for over a week after barge damages line

The First Nation has declared a state of emergency and told residents not to drink or cook with the water, bathe in it, or even use it for cleaning. Potable water is being trucked in until repairs are made.

Local state of emergency declared in Hitac̓u; clean water being trucked in

A truck pumps water into a water tower in Hitac̓u. The community is under a state of local emergency after a break in the line that carries water to and from the District of Ucluelet to be treated. (Submitted by Yuułuʔiłʔatḥ Government — Ucluelet First Nation)

Residents of Hitac̓u, the heart of the Ucluelet First Nation, have been told not to drink, bathe in, or even clean with the water coming out of their taps. 

Water in the community goes on a return journey to become drinkable — it travels from Hitac̓u across the Ucluelet Inlet to the District of Ucluelet, where it is processed and then flows back to Hitac̓u as potable water.

But the submerged water line it travels in is was hit and damaged by a barge on Monday. 

Charles McCarthy, elected president of the Ucluelet First Nation, says his daughter was the one who spotted the damage. He says she was out checking crab traps when she spotted a pipe sticking out of the water. 

"Right away, I knew, because that's where our water line goes across and comes back," McCarthy said. 

Hitac̓u, the home community of the Ucluelet First Nation (right), is across the Ucluelet Inlet from the District of Ucluelet (left). A submerged water line usually takes water from the nation to the district where it is processed and then returned as potable water. (Google Maps)

McCarthy alerted the District of Ucluelet and then got to work collecting tap water samples to send to the First Nations Health Authority for testing. Since it could take a few days for results, he also declared a local state of emergency, ordering community members to only use the water to flush toilets. 

In a statement, the district confirmed that the line was hit by a barge and says industrial divers who inspected the line found a break and a kink in the line. 

The submerged line needs to be floated in order to be fully inspected, which the district says should happen Wednesday or Thursday. At that point it will have a better idea of how long it will take to fix, before it is sunk again and re-anchored to the ocean floor. 

In the meantime, the First Nation is bringing in water by truck. It started with bottles of water to deliver to homes, but is hoping to arrange water tanks with faucets so people can fill various vessels with water. 

McCarthy says it's a struggle for some community members, especially elders, to live without clean, running water — "to even cook with a limited amount of water, doing dishes … the simple things that you take for granted every day." 

He says he's quickly learning how much water all these things take. He estimates just the first two days' worth of water deliveries have cost the nation between $8,000 and $10,000. 

McCarthy expects it might take until the end of January to have full, clean, water running again.

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