No timeline yet for restoration of Wabaseemoong water service
Community's water supply was shut off in late December following accidental contamination
There is currently no timeline for the restoration of water service at Wabaseemoong Independent Nations after accidental contamination forced the northwestern Ontario community's water supply to be shut off last month.
The shutdown occurred on Dec. 23, after a water pipe burst in the building that houses the community's water reservoir, leading to a flood, said Curtis Bergeron, director of strategic water management with Indigenous Services Canada.
"There was a diesel can in that building, so when it flooded it mixed with the diesel and got into the water supply," he said, adding the contaminated water had not been pumped into the distribution system yet, and therefore hadn't made its way into homes, or been consumed or used by any residents.
About 300 vulnerable members of the community were evacuated to Kenora and Winnipeg as a precaution, and bottled water is being provided to those who remain in the community.
An engineering firm has also been brought in to conduct an assessment, Bergeron said. However, tests conducted on Jan. 9 showed unsafe levels of hydrocarbons remained in the water due to the spill.
Bergeron said it's unclear as yet when the community's water service will be fully restored.
Wabaseemoong Chief Waylon Scott has not been available for interviews, but in a media release issued this week, the community said they are "actively working on full restoration."
"Community members' safety always comes first, and the necessary time is being taken to do the job right," the release reads. "Timelines are currently hard to estimate for full restoration, but the hope is within the current month of January."
The community said there is no investigation into possible vandalism at the treatment plant, as the contamination was determined to have been accidental.
In a statement to CBC News, Ontario Minister of Indigenous Services and Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford said the safety of Wabaseemoong residents is "top priority."
"I reached out to Chief Waylon Scott immediately and offered our full assistance," the statement reads. "As of this past weekend, nearly 800 people remain in the community."
"Our government is working with the Red Cross and relevant partners to maintain a supply of drinking water for those in the community, as well as providing logistical oversight for the vulnerable evacuees. We remain in contact with Chief Scott, ready to support in anyway we can."