8-10 years to fix Attawapiskat water problems, chief estimates

Despite a state of emergency and a commitment from the federal government, the chief of Attawapiskat First Nation still thinks it will take eight to ten years to get the water problems solved in his community. It's been one month since the northern Ontario fly-in First Nation declared a state of emergency.

Ignace Gull estimates it will take $15M to do the work required to finally have improved water quality

Attawapiskat Chief Ignace Gull says the community urgently needs a new source for their water. (Nic Meloney/CBC News)

It's been one month since Attawapiskat First Nation declared a state of emergency over its poor water quality.

The measure was taken in the northern Ontario community due to high levels of  trihalomethane (THMs) and haloacetic acids (HAAs) in the water the residents use for bathing and cooking. The fly-in community has a separate system for its drinking water.

Over the past month, Attawapiskat has seen visits from health officials and politicians, including Canada's Minister of Indigenous Service, Seamus O'Regan.

He promised a new water treatment system, but didn't provide a timeline or a dollar figure. However, O'Regan did commit $1.5 million for temporary measures.

The federal government also committed to bringing in bottled water for the residents, even though they do have a separate system for their drinking water.

According to Attawapiskat chief, Ignace Gull, that short-term work has started.

"The technical team were up here to assess the needs, the repairs that need to be done to deal with the immediate repairs on the water plant, the water intake," he said.

Gull added that the water distribution system has been flushed out, to try to clear out some of the chemicals.

There is still a long list of repairs and other work that needs to get done before the community can finally have improved water quality.

Gull estimates it will take $15 million, but the federal government hasn't determined the cost for all the work required.

"It's up to them to come up with the funding that's required to fix the immediate problems that we have right now, and I know it's not going to happen overnight," he said.

Gull expects it could take upwards of eight to ten years to get the new water treatment plant and the new water intake for Attawapiskat.

"There's a lot of work that still needs to be done."

In the meantime, Gull understands the water problems have meant added stress and worry for the 2,000 residents in Attawapiskat.

"Well it just puts a lot of pressure on people. People have a lot of pressure trying to have normal daily lives."

In the end, Gull understands the end result is about ensuring the residents aren't fearful that using the water in their homes could make them sick.

"To make sure that water is back to a safe level where people don't have to be afraid of using it."