Chuck Wright and a few of his friends spent their Thursday lunch hour downtown, handing out messages wrapped around a water bottle to people walking by.

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This article was published 30/1/2015 (2497 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Chuck Wright and a few of his friends spent their Thursday lunch hour downtown, handing out messages wrapped around a water bottle to people walking by.

The message had everything to do with water, a hot topic around Winnipeg since the city this week found readings for coliform bacteria, now believed to be "false positives," in water-supply samples. That led to a city-wide precautionary boil-water advisory over the next couple of days, which in turn resulted in a bizarre combination of overstated panic and outrage from Winnipeg residents.

Wright's message Thursday was one many have forgotten or simply weren't aware of: Winnipeg's water crisis is a drop in the bucket compared to what the residents of Shoal Lake 40 First Nation have to deal with every day.

You remember Shoal Lake? That's where Winnipeg gets its water from. The people who live there have been under a boil-water advisory for 17 years.

That disconnect is the message Wright hoped to get out.

"By us handing out bottles, for those who aren't aware of the fact that this disparity exists, it's possible people will think a bit more and realize that there is a bit of an irony there," the university student said outside the 201 Portage Ave. building.

As reported in Thursday's Free Press, 91 First Nations in Canada are under boil-water advisories; six of those are in Manitoba. Shoal Lake 40, just beyond the provincial boundary to the east, has been under the advisory for nearly two decades and can't get a water-treatment plant built because they're an island with no all-weather road access (the community is essentially on an island thanks to a diversion channel built to funnel the murky water away from the aqueduct).

According to Wright, who toured Shoal Lake 40 last fall, the community spends roughly $250,000 annually on bottled water. That's for an on-reserve population of approximately 300.

The group planned to hand out 150 bottles of water Thursday, each containing a label contrasting the length of the Winnipeg boil-water advisory (1.5 days) to the one Shoal Lake 40 has been under (6,205 and counting). Surprisingly, a few of the globally minded gestures were handed right back to organizers.

Brian Reimer decided to give his bottle back after talking to organizers about Shoal Lake 40. He has enough water here in Winnipeg, he said, and didn't need to take more. He wondered about Winnipeg's reaction to the boil-water advisory compared to how the people of Shoal Lake 40 were coping.

"It's a sad state that (we've been) two days without clean water and these people have been without clean water for 17 years," he said. "What does that say?"

With her 'Free Water' sign in tow, Monique Woroniak passed out water to the few passersby braving the winter wind Thursday. She wasn't deterred by the small buzz the demonstration generated in the bitter cold conditions.

"This is long-haul work," she said, hoping people think about where their water comes from and the implications on others (who don't have) that privilege. "I can't say what the difference (this demonstration) is going to make necessarily, but I know that all these little actions, along with some of the larger ones, are what it's going to take to move things forward."