Safe Water Project featured in Globe and Mail's ongoing investigation

Date: August 29, 2016

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Original article by Matthew McClearn for the Globe and Mail. Last updated August 29, 2016.

Water Systems at Risk

The Globe and Mail’s recent investigation has found that one-third of people living on First Nations are using water that poses a risk to their health.

The investigation examines recent statistics, water management since the Walkerton Crisis, data from Indigenous Affairs and examples of on-reserve water systems. One example is North Spirit Lake, a member community of Keewaytinook Okimakanak and a First Nation served by the Safe Water Project:



North Spirit Lake

Effective System Risk: 6.0 (Medium)

Primary challenges

  • Uncertainty in government funding

Some First Nations don’t want the federal government to end boil-water advisories on their behalf. “We have the solutions,” says Barry Strachan, public works manager at Keewaytinook Okimakanak, a tribal council of six First Nations in northern Ontario. “And they lie within the communities themselves. Help us to implement them.”

Two years ago, the council’s chiefs learned the federal government would discontinue the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan (FNWWAP). “We were in the same situation when the program ended as when it began,” says Mr. Strachan. “There was no action to ever remove a boil-water advisory in the KO communities, to my knowledge, throughout this whole period.” Keewaytinook Okimakanak therefore regarded FNWWAP’s termination as an opportunity. It created the Safe Water Project, a federally funded pilot project run primarily out of Dryden, Ont.

This project includes a new training centre, remote monitoring of water quality, and trained water operators on call to help local operators solve problems. So far Keewaytinook Okimakanak says it’s ended three boil-water advisories. Its next target: North Spirit Lake, subject to a boil-water advisory since 2001. But Mr. Strachan says he spends a quarter of his time maintaining the project’s funding, which officially ended on March 31. At publication time, the tribal council said it’s hopeful the funding will be renewed soon.