Residents of a small Saskatchewan town can drink the water coming out of their taps for the first time in nearly nine years thanks to a new water treatment plant. Craik, population 400, has been facing a boil water advisory since August 2010, when the province found its old plant didn’t meet minimum disinfection standards. “Sometimes it was yellow and sometimes it was brown and sometimes there was dirt in it,” one resident recalled.
The cause of the fire that destroyed the water treatment facility on Carry The Kettle Nakoda Nation has been ruled undetermined by Saskatchewan First Nation Emergency Management.
The facility was destroyed in February, leaving roughly 1,500 people without water.
According to Kimbal Ironstar, the First Nation’s projects manager, within three days of the fire they were able to hook up untreated well water and restore running water.
The City of Saskatoon has suffered more than $1 million in losses and damages due to water contamination in the Aspen Ridge neighbourhood, a lawsuit alleges. From Jan. 10 to Sept. 14, a “do not use” water advisory was in effect for 19 addresses in the Aspen Ridge subdivision. A black, petroleum-based substance, known as hydrocarbons, surfaced in fire hydrants in the area in December 2016.
Nicole Hancock, the executive director of the Safe Drinking Water Foundation, said systems exist that would take care of all contaminants and produce water that "would taste and smell great."
"I think that they should build a high quality treatment plant for a fraction of the cost," said Hancock. "We think that it would cost them less than $500,000. That's less than one-sixth of the cost."
"I don't think they've looked into these options," said Heney. "I don't think they want this town to stay here."
It's a big project that has been on the books for a number of years, but the cost and logistics of the project kept it from being moved into the budget. But with a growing concern of securing clean, safe drinking water around the world, the City of Moose Jaw is close to completing a new water transmission line that should provide that resource to the community for many years to come.
While the Canadian government says it's on track with its 2016 promise to bring safe water to First Nations communities within five years, some are still calling it an ambitious plan.
"First Nations communities are not homogenous. And the water source is not a homogenous source either, for these communities," said Lalita Bhardawaj, a toxicologist and public health professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
Behind every failed First Nations water plant is an unfortunate story. Assigning blame can be challenging: Although Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) pays for most on-reserve infrastructure and sets most of the rules governing design and construction, many other parties are involved, including project managers, engineering and construction firms and First Nations chiefs and councillors.