Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Reserves to get upgrade

Federal cash slated for 'high-risk' water, sewage systems

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Nine First Nations with the diciest drinking water will get upgrades to their treatment plants and pipes over the next four years -- good news for a province plagued with water woes.

Anna Fontaine, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's regional director for Manitoba, says nine bands, such as Hollow Water and Peguis First Nations, that have "high-risk" water systems will see cash for upgrades to ensure their drinking water doesn't make band members sick.

"Those aren't the only ones that are being done," Fontaine said. "Those are just the ones that are high-risk."

The move follows a damning federal report released in July that assessed every water and sewage treatment system on Canadian reserves and found nearly 40 per cent of water plants were so troubled they posed a high risk to human health.

In Manitoba, 21 systems, some serving only a band office and some serving more than 3,500 people, were rated high-risk. That's nearly 30 per cent of the province's on-reserve treatment plants, but it's better than Canada's average.

The report only looked at existing water treatment systems such as plants and pipes. It didn't look at the hundreds of First Nations homes that don't have indoor plumbing, not even taps for a cistern filled weekly by water trucks.

Manitoba has 1,400 such homes, and 800 are in the Island Lake area, where health problems such as influenza, skin ailments and diarrhea are rampant.

Bringing proper sanitation to every home and bringing every on-reserve water and sewage treatment plant up to standard will cost $690 million over the next decade for Manitoba alone, according to the national assessment report.

The department won't say how much money each of the nine high-risk reserves will get over the next four years because it could compromise the integrity of the tendering process.

Skownan First Nation Chief Cameron Catcheway, whose community gets its water from Waterhen Lake and treats it with chlorine, said he was thrilled to hear his band was on AANDC's list for upgrades.

"We've been trying to get a new plant for our community for some time," Catcheway said. "Our plant is very old."

The national assessment report rated Skownan's plant poorly on its design, the quality of source water and maintenance, though its operator scored well.

Catcheway said every home on the reserve gets water trucked from the plant to cisterns that pump water indoors. He would love to install pipes, but his first priority is updating the water plant.

Swan Lake is another band with a problematic plant that's slated to get an upgrade.

The reserve's main plant rated well, but a smaller well system that serves the band offices and the recreation centre scored poorly. The water is tested regularly to ensure it's safe to drink, but the system is at risk of failing.

Swan Lake trucks water to about half its residents, and band officials say installing pipes is their biggest priority.

"If we had a big infusion of money, we'd love to get everyone in the community hooked up to our water system, including our two community buildings," said Desmond Gould, Swan Lake's operations director.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Water woes

First Nations in Manitoba with water treatment systems deemed high-risk.

-- * Canupawakpa: A small water treatment system for a small community but one that has trouble across the board, from its source water to its design to its daily operation.

-- * Dauphin River: Another small system for a small community with trouble across the board.

-- Keeseekooweenin: Both the community's system and the school's system are at high-risk.

-- Kinonjeoshtegon (Jackhead): A small system with risks related to daily operation, maintenance and record-keeping.

-- * Peguis: The band's central system is functioning relatively well, but the old core well and the old school systems are very risky.

-- * Pinaymootang (Fairford): The band's school system and its three pump houses are rated high-risk, with problems related to daily operation, design and operator training.

-- * Swan Lake: The small well system that serves the band office and the recreation centre is rated high-risk.

-- Bloodvein: Deemed high-risk because of the community's water source and the plants operation and paperwork.

-- God's Lake: The remote east-side First Nation has a small system that serves Nazzie Point that's deemed high-risk.

-- * Hollow Water: Plagued by boil-water advisories and a design that's too small for the growing community. The plant is rated high-risk because of source contamination and maintenance issues.

-- Nisichawayasihk (Nelson House): High-risk due to source contamination, operation flaws and reporting.

-- O-Chi-Chak-Ko-Sipi (Crane River): High-risk mostly due to source-water contamination.

-- Sandy Bay: High-risk mostly due to source-water contamination.

-- * Shamattawa: Rated the riskiest water treatment system among all Manitoba's reserves. Plagued by a multitude of problems.

-- * Skownan: An old plant using dated technology and a risky water source.

-- * Wuskwi Sipihk: High-risk due to its source water and dated design.

-- Source: National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems, Manitoba Regional Roll-up Report, Jan. 2011.

(* means the plant is on Ottawa's list for an upgrade in the next four years.)

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 25, 2011 A3

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