Nova Scotia

Potlotek chief says community tired of waiting for government fix to water problems

Wilbert Marshall says while he's been assured Ottawa is working to fix the problem, he's more confident in the work being done by an Irish company.

Wilbert Marshall says he's more confident in the work being done by an Irish company

Chief of Potlotek First Nation Wilbert Marshall says his community is tired of getting lip service from government. (CBC)

The chief of Potlotek First Nation says his community is tired of lip service from the government, and he's now putting his confidence in an Irish company to deal with the water issues.

Wilbert Marshall said while he's been assured Ottawa is working to fix the problem, he's confident in what he's seen from Brewal Ireland Ltd. so far.

"Seeing is believing. I saw it with my own two eyes and I seen the test results," Marshall said.

"We brought these guys from Ireland just to test and see if they could fix it. And they said they could fix it and anyway, they did some tests here and their tests turn out really good."

An ongoing issue

This week, people in Potlotek were told not to drink or wash with their tap water due to high levels of manganese and iron.

In 2016, the community gathered to protest the water quality, and were promised a new treatment system by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada.

After more than $800,000 in repairs to the existing system, the water quality is still an issue.

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

Les Walsh, who works for Brewal, said the company has been working to remove the high levels of manganese and iron from the water

He said he believes the company can help bring the levels down to Health Canada standards permanently in four to six months.

The federal government has been unable to give a timeline for how long it would take to build a new water treatment facility.

Similar projects can take three to five years

Stephanie Palma, spokesperson for Indigenous and Northern Affairs, said the installation of a new water treatment system is currently in the design phase and construction timelines will be determined after that.

"While every project is different, it can take three to five years to complete a community infrastructure project," she said.

Palma also said the drinking water advisory issued in Potlotek this week is "seasonal in nature," as changing temperatures cause the lake's water to turn over.

"Levels usually decline when the seasonal factors end," she said.

Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner says government is working to address both the short-term and long-term problems around the water in Potlotek. (CBC)

Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner said government is working to address both the short-term and the long-term problem.

For now, Cuzner said they've invested some money into the old system to try and "patch it together" until a more permanent solution can be found.

Cuzner couldn't say how long it would take to find a permanent fix.

Working group exploring two options

He said the working group, made up of officials from Health Canada, Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, the chief, council and consultants, is currently looking at two different options.

"Some people are thinking that the current [water] source is adequate if treated properly. They think that it's fine. But there's also a stream of thought that thinks they may have to adapt and go to a second lake. And if that's the fact, then there has to be an acquisition of land, so it's a little bit more complex," he said.

"It's an awful source of frustration on our First Nations communities to not have these issues resolved.… Hopefully they'll come up with the right plan and we'll be able to deliver on the right plan and fix this problem for once and for all."

Marshall says if the water tests from Brewal meet Health Canada standards, they'll bring it to council and recommend the band install their system.