New water pump house ends 25 years of boil water advisories at Enoch Cree Nation

Enoch Cree Nation opened a new water pump house Wednesday, ending 25 years of boil water advisories at the First Nation bordering Edmonton.

$13.6-million project to provide clean drinking water to 500 homes

Members of the Enoch Cree Nation and government officials sample water from a new pump house at the community, which borders Edmonton to the west. (CBC/Scott Neufeld)

Lorraine Makokis took her first sip from a small silver water pail, like the kind her family used when she was young to collect snow to melt for drinking water.

It tasted exactly as it should.

"It tastes like water," the elder said, smiling.

The clear and cool water flowing from a new water pump house marked the end of 25 years of boil water advisories at Enoch Cree Nation. The new facility opened Wednesday at the First Nation, which borders Edmonton to the west.

Built with $13.6 million from the federal government, the facility connects Enoch to the city of Edmonton's water system. It provides clean drinking water to 500 homes at Enoch — up to 4,000 people.

For the first time, the school, which is right beside the pump house, will have clean tap water. So will a new school, which is expected to open this year.

Until now, community members bought bottled drinking water, boiled tap water, or had fresh water trucked to their homes.

Lorraine Makokis says the new facility will benefit generations to come. (CBC/Scott Neufeld)

Makokis remembers drawing water from a well at Enoch with her family when she was four years old. In the winter, they'd melt snow and sometimes get their water from a lake.

She was one of several women invited to bless the water from the taps during a ceremony at the new pump house. In attendance were Chief Billy Morin, Carolyn Bennett, minister of Crown-Indigenous relations, and members of the community and council. 

I'm really proud to see this happen today.- Lorraine Makokis

"It's overwhelming to be part of this today," she said. 

"To be here for all the women on our nation to help our men, and to help all our people who will continue to move forward and continue to have good, healthy, safe drinking water.

"I'm really proud to see this happen today."

'A foundation of life'

Enoch's previous water system was built in the 1970s, and wasn't adequate for the growing nation, Chief Billy Morin said. Boil water advisories have been issued on and off ever since.

Aside from not being able to drink what came from the taps, Morin said poor water quality affected almost every aspect of life, from bathing to cooking and cleaning.

Construction on the new facility began in 2017. It has a storage capacity of 46,000 cubic metres and includes a new water supply line, water reservoir and pump house. Enoch provided equipment rental and 38 members contributed more than 18,000 hours of labour. Many will remain on as staff.

Enoch's old water treatment plant will stay in service to provide non-drinkable water for other uses, like fighting grass fires. 

Some last-minute adjustments and cleanings still need to be completed on the new system. That includes cleaning the old pipes.

The boil water advisory will be officially lifted in the coming days once those tasks are completed. 

"This means the families in our townsite get to go home really soon and drink a clean glass of water," Morin said.

Women held sage as they participated in a ceremony to bless the water. (CBC/Scott Neufeld)