Former council member says treatment plant made too small

Band's former deputy chief says bureaucrats made treatment plant too small, adding to the tainted-water situation on the Kashechewan reserve.

The former deputy chief of Kashechewan says federal bureaucrats altered the design of the community's water treatment plant, contributing to its tainted water problem.

Jonathon Solomon told CBC News Online officials from Indian Affairs directed engineers to make the plant 10 to 12 per cent smaller because it looked too big.

"The engineers had designed it to handle any expansion ... you've got to understand our community has expanded since 1995, there are at least 100 to 120 more houses now."

Kashechewan's decade-old water treatment plant intake pipe is downstream from its sewage lagoon and has been plagued with problems for years. Two weeks ago, people found out their drinking water, described as beige in colour, was contaminated with E. coli.

Residents of the Kashechewan First Nation are being airlifted to get medical treatment in Sudbury.

Staff and volunteers from the Canadian Red Cross were helping the first 74 people from the reserve settle into temporary accommodations early Thursday, with another 170 expected to arrive by the evening.

Prime Minister Paul Martin has admitted the tainted-water crisis in a northern Ontario native community is "unacceptable" and promises the federal government will deal with it immediately.

The situation has renewed calls from Phil Fontaine, head of the Assembly of First Nations, for Ottawa to relinquish control over drinking water at reserves and to "establish a regulatory regime under First Nations governments." Fontaine emerged from a meeting Thursday with New Democrat Leader Jack Layton to talk about the AFN's 10-year plan to eradicate poverty among its communities.

Residents happy to have a clean shower

Looking tired but relieved after their 650-kilometre journey, members of the Cree community on the shore of James Bay told stories of living under a series of boil-water orders the past five years.

"Half the people in the community are infected with skin rashes, all different kinds," said Josephine Wesley, whose 13-year-old daughter Arlene was sent straight to hospital with a raw-looking infection when their plane arrived.

"They put a lot of chlorine in it, that water, and I think it causes more rashes and itchiness."

Adding chlorine kills bacteria in water, preventing waterborne diseases, but bathing in water with high levels of chlorine can aggravate existing skin conditions such as eczema, impetigo and scabies.

Marie Reuben said it's been an emotional couple of weeks for the 1,900 residents of Kashechewan.

"I'm just glad they got us out of there," she said of the plan ordered by the province and paid for by the federal government.

Matthew Wesley said the discovery of E. coli in the water came as a shock.

"I haven't bathed since I heard that on the radio, so the first thing I'm gonna do is take a shower when we get to the place where we're staying."

For now, people from the reserve are being put up in dorm rooms at Sudbury's emergency centre.

Eventually, the Kashechewan First Nation wants to move most if not all of the people who live there. Ontario's emergency management officials are still working out exactly how many and where they'll be sent.

Greater Sudbury Mayor David Courtemanche said his city is well-equipped and wants to help, but needs time to prepare.

"We're not in a position right now to be able to accept that many. We're assessing our capacities right now to bring in more residents."