Thunder Bay·The New Wave

Neskantaga FN still waiting to end 25-year boil water advisory as Trudeau promises 2021

It's been about 25 years since residents in a fly-in Ojibway community in northwestern Ontario have been without clean, safe drinking water. It looks like they might have to wait at least a couple more years to have the longest standing boil water advisory in Canada lifted.

Fly-in community was expecting to have new water treatment facility by March 2018

During a visit to Thunder Bay, Ont., on Friday, March 22, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to have all boil water advisories lifted in Canada by spring 2021. (Christina Jung/CBC)

It's been about 25 years since residents in a fly-in Ojibway community in northwestern Ontario have been without clean, safe drinking water and it looks like they might have to wait at least a couple more years to have the longest standing boil water advisory in Canada, lifted.

Neskantaga First Nation, located approximately 450 kilometres north of Thunder Bay, Ont., was promised a new water treatment facility in 2015. The project was expected to be completed by the spring of 2018, however, nine months later, the facility was still incomplete.

"In 2016, we made a promise to Canadians that we would eliminate all boil water advisories on reserve across the country within 5 years," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said when asked specifically about Neskantaga First Nation during a visit to Thunder Bay last Friday.

"I'm very pleased to say that we have lifted 80 long term boil water advisories across the country and we are absolutely on track to lifting all of them by the spring of 2021 as promised."

He added that these long term boil water advisories is something that's "emblematic of many other challenges in the investments in infrastructure, in training and in partnerships on governance that are required" to permanently end all boil water advisories in Canada.

To learn more about the situation at Neskantaga First Nation, tap on the audio player below.

Operations "ceased" on new water treatment plant

In February, Chief Moonias said he consulted the community and decided to "cease all operations on the new water treatment plant" and ordered workers and officials from Kingdom Construction Limited (KCI) to "leave the community immediately."

Currently, there are only two places in the community where residents of Neskantaga can get safe, clean drinking water; a filter station at the elementary school for students, and a temporary Reverse Osmosis (RO) Unit located by the Attawapiskat Lake.

Because the community has been on a boil water advisory for over two decades, it has become a daily, normal school routine for students to use the school's only water filter system to fill up their cups and water bottles.

With no clean water and an incomplete water treatment plant, Chief Moonias asked Indigenous Services Canada to provide everyone in the community with bottled water, until the completion of the new water treatment facility.

This story is part of The New Wave, a week-long CBC radio and online series focused on those tackling Ontario's water woes. (CBC)

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