Federal Report Confirms More Funding Needed to Ensure Safe Water for First Nations

NDP Leader Singh with MP Charlie Angus and MPP Sol Mamakwa in Neskantaga. Photo by Ben Sakanee
Photo by Ben Sakanee

Thunder Bay – INDIGENOUS – Nishnawbe Aski Nation (NAN) Grand Chief Derek Fox says yesterday’s report by the Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) on Canada’s failure to provide the necessary supports to ensure that First Nations communities have access to safe drinking water must be met with firm funding commitments in the upcoming federal budget.

“This report detailing the inadequacy of operation and maintenance funding for First Nations water systems comes as no surprise, but must be met with action. As identified by the PBO, operation and maintenance shortfalls are a major contributor to water and wastewater treatment plant failures, which keep some communities in perpetual crisis,” said Grand Chief Derek Fox. “We acknowledge that this government is committed to resolving water issues in our communities, but the lack of funding for operation and maintenance must be addressed in the next budget.”

The report found that historical spending since 2016-2017 and planned spending until 2025-2026 is expected to be sufficient for capital requirements, but not for operation and maintenance costs. It estimates that $138 million more should be spent annually to ensure that First Nations can properly operate and maintain water and wastewater systems.

The lack of sufficient operation and maintenance funding is one of the main causes of water problems on-reserve. The current Indigenous Services Canada Cost Reference Manual is an outdated document which does not capture the true costs of operating and maintaining water and wastewater infrastructure in First Nations communities.

There are currently seven short-term and 13 long-term boil water advisories in effect across NAN territory. Neskantaga First Nation has been on a BWA for 26 years, the longest in Canada. Eabametoong First Nation has been on a BWA since 2001, Muskrat Dam First Nation has been on a BWA since 2003, and Wawakapewin First Nation since 2004. About 30 per cent of the remaining long-term advisories are in NAN communities.

The design and construction of water treatment and distribution systems in remote First Nations presents unique challenges. The federal approach focuses on treatment plants, but does not always include distribution or guarantee that water is safe when it reaches homes. A source-to-tap approach ensures potable water from the treatment plant to all buildings in the community.

NAN’s 2018 infrastructure assessment found that funding only covers approximately 44 per cent of the actual costs of properly operating and maintaining infrastructure in NAN communities.

Link to PBO report: Clean Water for First Nations: Is the Government Spending Enough?https://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca


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