State of emergency declared amid water shortage in Oneida Nation of the Thames
It's costing $20K per day to ship water into the community, officials say
Leaders of an Indigenous community near London, Ont., are calling for the federal government to work with them to help solve chronic water supply problems after a state of emergency was issued Tuesday due to low water levels.
Residents of Oneida Nation of the Thames are under an order to conserve water and limit its use with the community's water tower at an all-time low.
The tower is the primary source of water for the 546 homes and 22 buildings in the territory.
"We have unfortunately been left with no choice but to order all non-essential use of water to cease and to put water conservation measures in place," said Chief Todd Cornelius.
Brandon Doxtator, a councillor with the Oneida Nation, said the Thames River, which feeds the tower, is lower than usual for this time of year. He said conserve-water advisories are common in the summer, but not in December.
"If we continued at the rate we were going, we would have run out of water completely," he told CBC News.
Doxtator said this latest shortage highlights longstanding and unresolved problems with the supply and quality of water in the Iroquois community of about 6,800 people.
A boil-water advisory has been in place since September 2019 and was made long term a year later.
Doxtator said Oneida's overall water infrastructure is poor. However, Oneida has struck an agreement in principle to pipe water into the community from Lake Huron. He said that would require help from the federal government to update infrastructure needed to test and distribute the water.
"The federal government has dithered and shown an inability to come to the table with a meaningful solution," said Doxtator.
Cornelius said the ongoing water problems have left his community "in crisis."
"We cannot fix this alone."
Cornelius said Oneida is receiving short-term water deliveries from a private water company at a cost of $20,000 per day. This includes the delivery of bottled water to homes and bulk water deliveries to keep water levels in the tower from getting lower.
Cornelius said climate change is partly to blame for the low water levels in the tank and from the Thames River, which feeds it.
An emergency meeting was held Sunday with representatives from Indigenous Services Canada (ISC), Emergency Management Ontario, Public Safety Canada, the City of London, Middlesex County, and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.
'Everyone should be angry'
Other community leaders, such as Oneida chief executive officer Pam Tobin, pointed out the proximity to London and the years the community has been working to improve water infrastructure.
"This is a blatant example of what Indigenous communities are experiencing as a result of slow progress with the truth and reconciliation commission call to action and UNDRIP," the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Tobin said.
In addition to a shortage of water for drinking and washing, Cornelius said the low-water situation poses a serious danger for fire protection.
A father and four children died in a house fire in the community in 2016. Cornelius said poor water distribution made fighting that blaze difficult.
"This is reoccurring over and over in our community, and we're getting sick of it," said Cornelius. "The federal government is not stepping up to the plate."
In a statement, the City of London said it has met with Oneida officials to offer support and staffing assistance, although the city has not received a formal request for help.
The city's statement said Oneida is working with neighbouring fire departments "to ensure service."
With files from CBC's Kate Dubinski