Nova Scotia

How a joint utility could help Indigenous communities struggling with clean water

The Atlantic Policy Congress hopes to soon create a regional water utility for 30 Indigenous communities in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

Atlantic Policy Congress wants to have a common water standard across the region

The regional water utility would include Potlotek First Nation, N.S., which is experiencing a crisis with its discoloured and smelly water. (CBC)

The Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat hopes to soon create a regional water utility for 30 Indigenous communities in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island.

"The focus of the water authority would be to get the money to invest and bring all the communities to a common standard across Atlantic Canada," said John Paul, the executive director of the organization.

Paul said a regional authority would empower First Nations communities when it comes to providing safe drinking water and sanitation services.

Water crises on reserve

There are currently three boil water advisories in place for First Nations in Atlantic Canada. The longest, on Eel Island Reserve in New Brunswick, has been in place since 2008.

And last month, people who live on Potlotek First Nation in Cape Breton were advised by Health Canada not to drink, bathe or even wash their clothes with water in their community due to the concentrations of manganese and iron. The do not consume advisory was rescinded about a month later, on Oct. 13.

Ten of the Indigenous communities in the region have service agreements with neighbouring municipalities. The rest operate their own individual systems.

Water entering the Potlotek water treatment system. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

The Atlantic Policy Congress hired Halifax Water to study the idea of a regional water authority, and it issued a final report in August

Carl Yates, the general manager of the utility, said the joint effort could help solve current problems.

"It also would be helpful for growth opportunities, to assist with economic development," he said. 

Decentralized model 

The report considered four different models for a regional authority.

It recommended a decentralized utility that could have a headquarters in either Halifax or Moncton, but would also have regional offices in all three provinces.

The Atlantic Policy Congress hired Halifax Water to study the idea of a regional water authority. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

Paul said the Atlantic Policy Congress is still working on the financial aspects of such a utility.

He hopes to have that finished by April 2018. Paul believes the regional water authority is an idea that could help Indigenous communities in other parts of the country.

"It could be replicated anywhere else in Canada," he said. 

Paul plans to share details at a national conference of the Assembly of First Nations taking place in Montreal from Oct. 30 to Nov. 1.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said Potlotek First Nation remained under a do not consume advisory. In fact, that advisory was rescinded on Oct. 13, 2017.
    Oct 30, 2017 5:00 PM AT

About the Author

Pam Berman

Reporter

Pam Berman is CBC Nova Scotia's municipal affairs reporter. She's been a journalist for almost 35 years and has covered Halifax regional council since 1997. That includes four municipal elections, 19 budgets and countless meetings. Story ideas can be sent to pam.berman@cbc.ca