After years of hauling water, a Treaty 3 First Nation celebrates lifting of long-term boil water advisory
Officials in Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation says they're still waiting for a full water plant upgrade
People in a First Nation in Treaty 3 in Ontario are celebrating a key step toward clean drinking water, as they lifted a long-term boil water advisory at the beginning of December.
Advisories have been in effect on-and-off in Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation since the 1990s, said Chief Clayton Wetelainen, but the most recent advisory had been in effect for more than a year.
"The people [living in] residential units are glad because they're tired of hauling in water, and the [advisory] has now been lifted," Wetelainen said.
"They can use the tap water to drink, which takes a load off of people you know. [Before, when] they ran out of water, they'd have to go get the jugs and bring them back to the house."
The advisory became long-term in September 2022, after supply chain and scheduling issues caused delays to necessary upgrades on the back-up power and pumping systems in the First Nation's water treatment plant, according to the Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) website. Boil water advisories are considered long term if they have been in place for more than one year.
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Those issues were resolved later in the winter, after a high-flow pump was upgraded, allowing the water treatment system to be properly flushed, Wetelainen said.
But that isn't the end of water troubles for the community.
School, daycare not cleared to use tap water
The school and a daycare in the First Nation are not yet cleared to use the tap water because they still rely on old cast iron water lines, the chief said.
He's hopeful those issues will be addressed in the new year however, as the First Nation is waiting on federal approval to replace those cast iron pipes and complete a total upgrade of the water treatment plant to meet the long-term needs of the community.
"First Nations have always been underfunded, whether it was infrastructure, water plants to child welfare, and this is just the legacy," he said. "It looks like [the government is] finally trying to improve all these legacy issues."
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The Liberal federal government had previously set a goal to end all long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations by March 2021, but admitted they wouldn't meet that goal as early as October 2020.
ISC's website says there are still 30 long-term advisories in 26 First Nations across the 10 Canadian provinces — Indigenous communities in the three territories are not included on the website — as of Dec. 1, with 137 advisories having been lifted since 2015.
The government has consistently affirmed their commitment to ending all long-term boil water advisories in First Nations, but have not provided an updated deadline of when they hope to accomplish that goal.