Saskatchewan Water Sample Test Results and What They Mean for the Health of Saskatchewanians

We have compiled a spreadsheet of the Saskatchewan Water Sample Test Results and would like to share with you the results as well as what they mean for the health of the people who live in the communities in which the drinking water does not meet the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

We studied six characteristics of particular interest: trihalomethanes, arsenic, free chlorine, total chlorine, iron, and manganese.

There were 745 waterworks for which there was data for at least one of our characteristics of interest. We found that 71 of these waterworks had data that was over the guideline for trihalomethanes (the guideline is 100 ug/L), 24 had data that was over the guideline for arsenic (0.010 mg/L or 10 ug/L), 68 had data that showed that they did not have the minimum allowable amount of free chlorine (0.1 mg/L), 68 had data that was over the guideline for iron (0.3 mg/L), 194 had data that was over the guideline for manganese (0.05 mg/L).

What does this mean for the health of Saskatchewanians?

Saskatchewan Flag

Trihalomethanes are disinfection byproducts. Trihalomethanes can cause the following health problems:

  • Central nervous system effects
  • Cardiac arrhythmias
  • Abnormalities of the liver and kidneys
  • Burning sensation, redness, and blistering of the skin
  • Increases in the incidence of rectal, colon and bladder cancer. It is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a Group B2 or "probable human carcinogen"
  • Potential birth defects, miscarriages, and delays in fetal development

The worst-case scenario in Saskatchewan? One waterworks has data showing 428 ug/L trihalomethanes (over 4 times the Canadian Guideline).

Arsenic is the chemical element of atomic number 33, it is a brittle steel-gray metalloid. Arsenic can cause the following health problems:

  • Cancer of bladder and lungs
  • Skin lesions, pigmentation changes, hard patches on the palms and soles of the feet - these may be a precursor to skin cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Diabetes
  • Pulmonary disease
  • Myocardial infarction - can cause death
  • In utero and early childhood exposure has been linked to negative impacts on cognitive development, intelligence, and memory, and increased deaths in young adults due to multiple cancers, lung disease, heart attacks, and kidney failure

The worst-case scenario in Saskatchewan? One waterworks has data showing 44.6 ug/L arsenic (over 4 times the Canadian Guideline).

Danger Chlorine

Free chlorine is the chlorine available to inactivate disease-causing organisms, it is a measure used to determine the potability of water. If there is not sufficient free chlorine in the water this indicates that a sufficient amount of chlorine was not added to the water to inactivate most of the bacteria and viruses that cause diarrheal disease and that the water is not sufficiently protected from recontamination during transport to the home, and during storage of water in the household. If there is insufficient free chlorine people can be at risk for many diseases, including:

  • Cholera
  • Hepatitis
  • Giardiasis

The worst-case scenario in Saskatchewan? One waterworks has data showing 0 mg/L of free chlorine.

Iron is the second most abundant metal in the Earth's crust, of which it accounts for about 5%. The Guideline for Canadian Drinking Water Quality for iron is an aesthetic objective because higher levels than the guideline will stain clothes, showers, bathtubs, toilets, toilet tanks, and dishes. It can also give the water an unpleasant metallic taste and offensive odour. When water with high levels of iron flows through pipes, iron residue will build and this can lead to reduced water pressure in homes. It can also be linked to excessive bacterial activity. It can also cause hot water heaters, washing machines, and other appliances using water to prematurely fail. Too much iron can cause the following health problems:

  • Washing with water which is high in iron can damage healthy skin cells, which can lead to wrinkles
  • Water with high levels of iron does not blend well with soap, this can lead to a soap scum residue not only being left in your bathtub but on your skin as well (which can clog pores and lead to skin problems such as acne or eczema)
Wrinkled Hands
Acne

The worst-case scenario in Saskatchewan? One waterworks has data showing 5.9 mg/L of iron (over 19 times the Canadian Guideline).

Manganese is the chemical element with atomic number 25. It is a hard, gray metal. The Guideline for Canadian Drinking Water Quality for manganese is also an aesthetic objective. However, if this level increases to 0.5 mg/L (500 ug/L) it becomes a health concern as manganese can affect brain health. Manganese above the aesthetic guideline can stain plumbing and laundry as well as impart taste and odour to the water. Manganese-containing water can react with coffee, tea, and even alcoholic beverages, producing a black sludge affecting both taste and appearance. Manganese can increase microbial slime formation in both distribution and household pipes. Some communities do not chlorinate properly and no free chlorine residual is present, which allows high levels of manganese to remain in the water (around 2-3 mg/L). Too much manganese can cause the following health problems:

  • Neurological problems - symptoms resembling Parkinson's disease, such as shaking (tremors)
  • People with long-term liver disease have problems getting rid of manganese. Manganese can build up in these people and cause shaking, mental problems such as psychosis, and other side effects.

The worst-case scenario in Saskatchewan? One waterworks has data showing 8.44 mg/L of manganese (over 168 times the aesthetic objective and 16 times the amount at which it becomes a health concern as it can affect brain health).

How does your waterworks compare? See our complete spreadsheet of Saskatchewan Water Sample Test Results.

No community needs to put up with unsafe, poor smelling and tasting tap water in 2018!

Get free, confidential help with your community's specific drinking water quality issues by sending your raw water quality data and treated water quality data to safedrinkingwaterteam@gmail.com. SDWT will assess your community's water quality data and make suggestions for how to improve the quality of the treated water. This assistance is free of charge and your data and our communications will be held in strict confidentiality. Remember, our goal is to help communities like yours!


StarPhoenix Article: Viewpoint - Sask. rural water sources need different cleanup process

This article was published in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix on October 3, 2016. However, it is just as relevant today as it was then.

Dr. Hans Peterson

 The reverse osmosis filters at the Yellow Quill First Nation's water treatment plant.

The reverse osmosis filters at the Yellow Quill First Nation's water treatment plant.

Larger Saskatchewan cities “import” great quality water from the Rocky Mountains via the South Saskatchewan River and, indirectly by the Buffalo Pound water treatment plant through diversions from Lake Diefenbaker.

Unfortunately, many small municipalities and First Nations communities in Saskatchewan do not have good quality source water. Indeed, rural Saskatchewan has some of the poorest quality raw water sources anywhere.

In terms of global water quality, we are right at the bottom. So much so that our provincial government felt it was necessary to condition our residents to accept drinking poorer quality water than most other people in the world.

Specifically, the Saskatchewan Guideline for Total Dissolved Solids (TDS — a measure of the amount of salt) was changed from Canada’s – and the rest of the world’s — guideline of 500 mg/L to 1,500 mg/L. Without this change most communities in the province that use groundwater sources would never meet our regulations. Saskatchewan people have just been expected to get used to drinking salty water.

While high TDS is not a health concern, it often imparts a taste to the water. Today there are no concrete guidelines in place for aesthetics. Taste and odour have been forgotten by both provincial and federal regulators, until Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proclaimed that he wanted safe and potable drinking water for First Nations.

What about residents in rural municipalities? Many small communities in Saskatchewan are shrinking and cannot any longer afford to support their old water treatment plants, much less invest in modern water treatment facilities that can meet technical water quality requirements as well as provide water that is aesthetically palatable.

There are many components other than salt in our tap water. The average person in Saskatchewan would be surprised to learn just how many contaminants there are in ground water typically found here. These compounds include iron, manganese, ammonium, arsenic, hydrogen sulphide, a gas that smells like rotten eggs, and methane, another gas that has no smell.

There are also other compounds that are critical to successful water treatment in Saskatchewan — the removal of bio-available compounds and nutrient sources for bacteria, as well as the removal of dissolved organic carbon. Without proper treatment, bacteria can and will grow in treated water reservoirs and distribution systems, right up to your tap. Some of those bacteria can cause diseases.

This is an exceptional, but not insurmountable problem. However, we ask communities that have poorer raw water sources than cities to accept shortcut water treatment approaches, using versions of technologies that cities use.

There’s nothing inherently problematic about using conventional technologies on high quality city source water. But when you apply those technologies on poor quality water, the result is often far less than ideal.

Simpler and better solutions exist. These modern treatment systems are needed for rural water users.

Success in water treatment will not come without a thorough understanding of the physics, chemistry and biology of the water. The problems are many, but by using a reverse osmosis membrane we can split the water, moving the problems to one side and pure water to the other.

In conventional treatment, all the water is treated. What we drink is everything. This may be OK when high quality raw water sources are used, like in the case of Saskatoon and Regina and most other cities. However, the federal government has gone so far as to label many of our local water sources as “untreatable.” Some 15 years ago, “untreatable” raw water at Yellow Quill First Nation caused the Department of Indian Affairs to support a two-year project to try to get rid of the “un” in un-treatable.

The Integrated Biological and Reverse Osmosis Membrane (IBROM) treatment process was developed 2002-03. This process can treat even the poorest quality raw water sustainably and produce tap water of 10 to 100 times better quality than what is possible using conventional treatment (adding chemicals and filtering the water, like cities do). The head operator for Yellow Quill’s IBROM plant and I presented the IBROM development at the United Nations headquarters in New York in May 2005.

There are now 16 First Nations in Saskatchewan and one in Alberta producing some of the highest quality tap water in the world using the IBROM process. So there is proof that very poor quality water can be treated most effectively, economically and sustainably.

Hans Peterson represents the Safe Drinking Water Foundation, a not-for-profit public interest charitable organization.  

No community needs to put up with unsafe, poor smelling and tasting tap water in 2018!

Get free, confidential help with your community's specific drinking water quality issues by sending your raw water quality data and treated water quality data to safedrinkingwaterteam@gmail.com. SDWT will assess your community's water quality data and make suggestions for how to improve the quality of the treated water. This assistance is free of charge and your data and our communications will be held in strict confidentiality. Remember, our goal is to help communities like yours!


Information About Boil Water Advisories, Do Not Drink Orders, and Cyanobacteria Blooms in Western Canada Is Now Available on Safe Drinking Water Team's Website

Visit our website to see the spreadsheet we have created of all Drinking Water Advisories in Western Canada.

Are you concerned about First Nations communities (perhaps even your own?) which have drinking water quality issues? Sapphire Water has worked with First Nations for over a decade and has provided state of the art, safe and reliable water treatment systems to over 20 satisfied communities and counting.

You can find out more about Sapphire Water on their website.

No community needs to put up with unsafe, poor smelling and tasting tap water in 2018!
 
Do you have questions about your community’s water treatment challenges? E-mail us at safedrinkingwaterteam@gmail.com. Remember, our goal is to help communities like yours!


The Safe Drinking Water Team Grew Out of Advanced Aboriginal Water Treatment Team to Help First Nations and Rural Communities with their Water Issues

The Safe Drinking Water Team grew out of Safe Drinking Water Foundation (SDWF)’s Advanced Aboriginal Water Treatment Team (formed in 2006). In 2014, the transition was completed. Our goal is for First Nations, villages, and towns in Canada to have tap water that meets regulations, is safe, healthy, and smells and tastes good. We are 12 First Nations water treatment plant operators, public works managers, technical directors, circuit riders, and non-Aboriginal university and water quality researchers who have banded together to try to make the above water quality goal attainable. Get to know some of us here: https://www.safedrinkingwaterteam.org/the-team/

There are nine main issues with drinking water in First Nations communities and rural areas in Canada:

Issue #1: The Quality of the Raw Water Can Be Really Bad

 Yellow Quill First Nation's (SK) former raw water is on the left, Saskatoon raw water is on the right. Both bottles were collected on the same day from surface water sources. Yellow Quill was under a boil water advisory that lasted 9 years. Yellow Quill did not have the treatment system necessary to treat such poor quality raw water to meet any guidelines. Yellow Quill First Nation is where the Integrated Biological Reverse Osmosis Membrane (IBROM) water treatment system was developed; after its deployment, the boil water advisory was finally lifted.

Yellow Quill First Nation's (SK) former raw water is on the left, Saskatoon raw water is on the right. Both bottles were collected on the same day from surface water sources. Yellow Quill was under a boil water advisory that lasted 9 years. Yellow Quill did not have the treatment system necessary to treat such poor quality raw water to meet any guidelines. Yellow Quill First Nation is where the Integrated Biological Reverse Osmosis Membrane (IBROM) water treatment system was developed; after its deployment, the boil water advisory was finally lifted.

ssue #2: The Tools Used to Clean Up the Water Do Not Work
 
The tools used to clean up Yellow Quill’s raw water did not work. The former treatment plant utilized coagulation, which was followed by filtration. In other words, the operator used a tea strainer when coffee filters were required.

 Tea strainers allow particles to go through and viruses to move through as a finished "treated" water product. Would you drink that black water from the bottle in the previous photo after we put it through this?

Tea strainers allow particles to go through and viruses to move through as a finished "treated" water product. Would you drink that black water from the bottle in the previous photo after we put it through this?

Issue #3: The Science of Bad Quality Raw Water is Poorly Understood
 
A lot of work has been done on high quality raw water by large organizations, such as the American Water Works Association. Bad quality water does not have large advocacy groups demanding advanced science be used to treat poor raw water sources in rural areas.

 Saddle Lake First Nation (AB) utilizes this lake as their raw water source for the community. The foam is the result of high levels of naturally-occurring organic materials coupled with windy conditions.

Saddle Lake First Nation (AB) utilizes this lake as their raw water source for the community. The foam is the result of high levels of naturally-occurring organic materials coupled with windy conditions.

Issue #4: What Works on Good Quality Water Doesn’t Work on Bad Quality Water
 
Cities generally utilize much cleaner raw water sources, such as large, fast flowing rivers and need only use conventional treatment: chemicals are added to the water, followed by clarification. Communities with poor water sources, employing the same conventional treatment processes as larger cities, will need to use up to ten times more chemicals to attain the same levels of water quality.

 The use of copious amounts of chemicals to treat poor quality water is not good for the health of people, nor the planet. Further, chemicals for water treatment plants are very expensive. This photo shows a one month supply of chemicals at Saddle Lake Cree Nation - costing upwards of $15,000. An IBROM treatment plant was introduced and the chemical costs for the community decreased 100-fold.

The use of copious amounts of chemicals to treat poor quality water is not good for the health of people, nor the planet. Further, chemicals for water treatment plants are very expensive. This photo shows a one month supply of chemicals at Saddle Lake Cree Nation - costing upwards of $15,000. An IBROM treatment plant was introduced and the chemical costs for the community decreased 100-fold.

Issue #5: The Low Cost Bid Used to Determine the Construction of Water Treatment Plants will Simply Not Provide the Best Solution
 
The issue of low cost bids has two main concerns associated with it: cheap, obsolete parts and poor science! When a part breaks down in a First Nations water treatment plant it often takes a lot of time and money to get the treatment plant working properly again. This occurs because the parts no longer exist and they have to be made from scratch.
 
With inferior water treatment systems the treatment of the water will not be completed in the water treatment plant, but instead continues in the treated water reservoirs. Inferior water treatment may remove only half of the impurities from the water, making the other half go into the treated water reservoirs and generating sludge there. At Yellow Quill First Nation one foot of black ooze needed to be removed from the treated water reservoirs every year.

The IBROM treatment process removes 100% of the impurities and a 25 cent coin dropped in the treated water reservoirs is visible for years. With inferior treatment, the coin would disappear out of sight in days.

 Pictured above is a Yellow Quill water operator (with rubber boots) who has entered a treated water reservoir during the clean-up process.

Pictured above is a Yellow Quill water operator (with rubber boots) who has entered a treated water reservoir during the clean-up process.

Technologies, such as coagulation/filtration and manganese greensand have been used for more than 100 years, but this has still left many rural communities with discoloured, hard, and awful tasting water because these "simple" processes cannot treat such poor quality water. The continued use of these technologies is mind-boggling as they cannot deal with bad quality raw water sources. However, it is often the case that coagulation/filtration and manganese greensand are the lowest cost bid, and many communities do not know that there is a better option.

Issue #6: Fighting Organic-laden Bad Quality Water by Adding More Chemicals is Bound to Fail

In cities with high quality water increasing chlorine levels a little to attain drinking water standards may work, but when tasked with treating poor raw water, the chlorine levels need to be increased a lot. You can dump a lot of chlorine into the water to reach your desired quality levels, but this does not mean that the water is health. Even coloured water will bleach and start to look like "drinking water" with enough chlorine.

 We had two glasses of tea from the same pot. In one we poured chlorine. Guess which one.

We had two glasses of tea from the same pot. In one we poured chlorine. Guess which one.

Issue #7: Current Treatment Processes Work Against Science

In 2002-2004 a project was carried out at Yellow Quill First Nation. The community had been on a boil water advisory for years and the federal government had determined the raw water was “untreatable.” The engineering company wanted to walk away from designing a water treatment process and building a plant as they continued to fail to produce quality water. Existing water treatment processes failed. Treating the raw water chemically showed no hope for Yellow Quill’s bad quality groundwater. Biology was introduced as a pilot project and it showed some promise of a working water treatment process. After two years of research (multiple trial and error experiments) the concept of the Integrated Biological and Reverse Osmosis Membrane (IBROM) treatment process was developed. This process utilized bacteria to treat the poor quality source water, followed by reverse osmosis treatment. This pilot project paved the way for a new approach to treat the poorest quality sources of both ground and surface waters.

 Bacteria on Filtralite, scanning electrone microscope photo.

Bacteria on Filtralite, scanning electrone microscope photo.

Issue #8: Bad Quality Water Treament Needs Scientifically Sound Water Treatment Processes

The IBROM treatment system works on the poorest of source waters, requires small amounts of chemicals, and decreases maintenance and operational costs for the communities. IBROM systems produce water which not only meets all global water quality regulations but also World Health Organization recommendations for calcium and magnesium. For all IBROM plants a quarter is tossed into the treated water reservoirs and the operator can open the treated water hatches and look at that quarter year after year. They are all still clearly visible even after years of water production.

 With better water treatment processes the treated water reservoirs are pristine and the water is visibly clear.

With better water treatment processes the treated water reservoirs are pristine and the water is visibly clear.

Issue #9: The Cost of Treating Water - Chemical Costs

At Saddle Lake, before the IBROM system was implemented, the water plant required $15,000 worth of chemicals per month and could not meet any of the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines. Saddle Lake has had a surface water IBROM since 2010. Chemical consumption has decreased to $160 per month and the plant meets all global regulations and World Health Organization recommendations. There are 7,000 residents at Saddle Lake. Total chemical use per community member per year is 33 cents!

Saddle Lake’s raw water (surface water) has, like Yellow Quill’s raw water (groundwater), been considered untreatable until the development of the IBROM. Indeed, David Schindler (he held the Killam Memorial Chair and was Professor of Ecology in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta and his innovative large-scale experiments on whole lakes at the Experimental Lakes Area proved that phosphorus controls excessive algal blooms in temperate lakes, and this finding led to the banning of phosphates in detergents) visited Saddle Lake and was shocked by the deplorable quality of the community's source water. When he saw the state of the source water he said, "I've never seen a water supply in such poor shape! The lake is covered with  bluegreens [algae], which make mats in nearshore areas. Yet this is a drinking water supply for several thousand First Nations people! This is a story that city people need to hear and see. They cannot imagine that we have water problems of this magnitude in Alberta.”

 Saddle Lake water, split by a reverse osmosis process into waste and pure water.

Saddle Lake water, split by a reverse osmosis process into waste and pure water.

There is hope, as new safer and more cost-effective technologies exist. First Nations and rural communities must take full advantage of these 21st century solutions.

No community needs to put up with unsafe, poor smelling and tasting tap water in 2018!
 
Do you have questions about your community’s water treatment challenges? E-mail us at safedrinkingwaterteam@gmail.com. Remember, our goal is to help communities like yours!

 Robert (Bob) Pratt, Vice President

Robert (Bob) Pratt, Vice President


Almost 50 Aboriginal Communities Have Lost Access to Safe Drinking Water Since 2016

This is a translation of an article written by The Canadian Press in French. The original French article was published July 25, 2017 and can be found at http://ici.radio-canada.ca/espaces-autochtones/a-la-une/document/nouvelles/article/1047128/eau-potable-nouveaux-avis-communautes-autochtones-consommation

While Ottawa is committed to making drinking water available to all of Canada's Aboriginal water systems by 2021, no less than 47 new drinking water advisories have been put in place since 2016, including 27 since the beginning of the year, according to data obtained by The Canadian Press.
 
This situation leads several observers to believe that the Trudeau administration is likely not to meet its target of lifting all long-term advisories on systems funded by the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) by 2021, despite investments of $1.8 billion over the next five years.
 
"The government's objective is not realistic with the initiatives currently in place. I do not see how we can get rid of boil water advisories, because with all the new notices, it's one step forward, two steps back," says Robert Pratt, a plant operator of the Aboriginal community of George Gordon, Saskatchewan.
 
"Unless there is a concerted effort to really solve the problem, nothing will change."
-  Robert Pratt, an operator of a water treatment plant in Saskatchewan:

At present, no fewer than 152 drinking water advisory (DWA) notices exist in 104 Aboriginal communities across the country, according to the latest data from Health Canada and the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), a British Columbia organization responsible for counting DWAs in the province.
 
Therefore, the 47 boil-water advisories in place since 2016 represent close to one-third of all DWAs currently in use in Canada.
 
Advisories are categorized according to the time elapsed since their publication. After one year, a DWA is considered to be "long-term", according to Health Canada.
 
These long-term notices include the case of Sachigo Lake, a small remote community in Ontario located nearly 650 kilometers northwest of Thunder Bay.
 
"One of the reservoirs of the [water treatment plant] has been leaking for about five years. It had not been a problem until recently, but the technicians decided it was more prudent to issue a boil water advisory until the leak could be repaired,” says the manager of public works for the community, Samuel Tait.
 
The DWA was first issued on June 7, 2016. Mr. Tait reported that the Council had requested funding to repair the leak on December 31, a request that has yet to be answered.
 
The water problems of the isolated community of Northwestern Ontario do not end there. "Sometimes during the winter, the lake from which we are supplied with water freezes almost to the bottom and we run out of water for the plant. This happened at least five times. We have to make holes in the lake and pump water with rubber hoses to fill our tank, which forces us to issue a boil water advisory," says the director.
 
According to the Director of Public Works Operations, the crux of the problem is still funding.
 
“We talked to those responsible for infrastructure funding and they know that our lake is shallow. They are telling us that it is work that could be done, but it would be too expensive to repair.”
- Samuel Tait, Manager of Public Works Operations for the Sachigo Lake Community, Ontario
 
The operator of the Pic Mobert community water treatment plant, Dave Craig, knows the case of Sachigo Lake since he trained technicians in the 1990s. After working to train the communities of Northwestern Ontario and James Bay, he notes that these isolated communities are often left to their own devices.
 
"As soon as the engineers leave after the construction of the plant, forget it if you want to get them back in case of a problem, even with a warrantee," he remarked.
 
An infrastructure problem
 
Many of the experts consulted by The Canadian Press believe that the main cause of the large number of new boil water advisories is the lack of reliability of facilities in the communities.
 
"When a plant is finally completed, some valves, for example, can no longer be repaired because they have been discontinued," says Robert Pratt, who has worked in some thirty water treatment plants over the course of his career.
 
"We do not really have a say on the equipment we are given. It is as if we were told not to complain too much because we did not have to pay."
 - Robert Pratt, an operator of a water treatment plant in Saskatchewan
 
Dave Craig, for his part, believes that older plants, such as the one in Sachigo Lake, which is about twenty years old, also explain the emergence of new advisories.
 
"It’s important to keep in mind that infrastructure in some remote communities dating back 15 or 20 years has often been poorly maintained over the years because there are no experts nearby. Many of these old plants are the source of boil water advisories," says Craig.
 
Infrastructure reliability problems are not limited to older plants. Pic Mobert, 279 kilometers east of Thunder Bay, is one of 26 communities where a long-term advisory has been lifted by the government since the Liberals came to power. A water treatment plant was inaugurated in June 2016, ending a notice in force for six years.
 
Dave Craig, however, raises troubling problems, even if the plant is brand new. "There's a leak in our distribution system," says Craig. “That should be covered by the warranty, but the contractor who was here never finished the job. So he must come back eventually, but I do not know yet how it will resolve itself," he deplores, adding that the situation deeply frustrates him.
 
The operator says that this leak forces him to use about 20 times more water than he needs in order to ensure sufficient pressure in the pipes.
 
"It also uses equipment much faster, and we must not overwork our infrastructure. If it gets worse, we may have to shut down the water treatment plant, so we would have to issue a new boil water advisory," he said.
 
Hans Peterson, a specialist who worked with the community of Yellow Quill, Saskatchewan, to lift the boil water advisory in the community from 1995 to 2004, states that in his opinion the processes which are attempted in First Nations communities are often poorly adapted for the task which needs to be accomplished, as he notes that water sources are often of lower quality near Indigenous communities.
 
"When you have a source where water quality is ten times worse, a simple calculation makes it possible to conclude that it would be necessary to add 10 times more chemicals to treat it like in the city," he explains.
 
"It is ridiculous to think that we can add as many chemicals to produce drinking water. We have to rethink how we do it, because the excessive addition of chemicals will result in new boil water advisories."
 - Hans Peterson, Water Sanitation Specialist at Safe Drinking Water Foundation
 
$1.8 billion over five years
 
The government of Justin Trudeau wants to lift all long-term notices for systems funded by the Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) by 2021. Ottawa intends to meet this target through a five-year plan developed in 2016 with investments of $1.8 billion.
 
"We are also preventing the emergence of new advisories with our investments," said Minister of Aboriginal Affairs Carolyn Bennett, citing the case of British Columbia where she said "no new notice [that poses a risk of becoming long-term] has been issued," despite the six notices in force in the province since the beginning of 2017.
 
Since the Liberals came to power, 26 long-term advisories have been lifted in 22 communities across the country. This progress makes Minister Bennett believe that she will be able to reach her goal by 2021.
 
"We still have 70 DWAs [long-term affecting INAC-funded systems] to be lifted and we are hopeful that we will do so within five years, even though new opinions are being issued because [affected systems] receive financing," says the minister.
 
Some observers, however, do not share this optimism. "I do not think the goal is realistic. The government must begin by re-examining the processes and technology it uses and adopting the right methods," said Hans Peterson, one of the people behind the Safe Drinking Water Foundation.
 
Aboriginal Engagement
 
However, accountability is not entirely on the shoulders of the government, says Steve Hrudey, Professor Emeritus in Analytical and Environmental Toxicology at the University of Alberta, who in 2006 co-authored a report on First Nations water quality alongside a panel of experts.
 
"The government can have the best intentions in the world and unlimited resources, but if there is no concrete commitment on the part of the communities to resolve the situation, nothing will happen."
 -Steve Hrudey, Professor of Analytical and Environmental Toxicology at the University of Alberta
 
While he also believes that changes should be made in local Aboriginal governments, such as adding water treatment experts to tribal councils, Dave Craig remains critical of the money allocated.
 
This is the view of most experts consulted by The Canadian Press, especially those from First Nations: Ottawa money will be in vain if it is not invested properly.
 
"It's like many things: you cannot solve the problem simply by throwing money at it," Dave Craig summarizes.

This article has been sent to you by Safe Drinking Water Team.

 Robert (Bob) Pratt, Vice President   "There are some 700 water treatment plants in First Nations communities in Canada. Learning from the operators of these plants would be one big step forward."

Robert (Bob) Pratt, Vice President

"There are some 700 water treatment plants in First Nations communities in Canada. Learning from the operators of these plants would be one big step forward."

 A reverse osmosis membrane was used to split Saddle Lake water into a waste stream (left) and a pure water stream (right). In most water treatment plants, the two buckets are mixed and colour is frequently bleached out using chlorine. Treatment processes that treat the raw water "as is" (all conventional processes) end up with poor quality treated water even after a boil water advisory has been lifted. Lifting First Nations boil water advisories and assuming that all is well is preposterous. It may give a certain amount of comfort, but the work of removing contaminants from First Nations water sources is the only way to end up with safe and good tasting drinking water. The Canadian Press article above is one of the first steps taken by the national press to go beyond boil water advisories. We commend them for this.

A reverse osmosis membrane was used to split Saddle Lake water into a waste stream (left) and a pure water stream (right). In most water treatment plants, the two buckets are mixed and colour is frequently bleached out using chlorine. Treatment processes that treat the raw water "as is" (all conventional processes) end up with poor quality treated water even after a boil water advisory has been lifted. Lifting First Nations boil water advisories and assuming that all is well is preposterous. It may give a certain amount of comfort, but the work of removing contaminants from First Nations water sources is the only way to end up with safe and good tasting drinking water. The Canadian Press article above is one of the first steps taken by the national press to go beyond boil water advisories. We commend them for this.


Knowledge Is Power.jpg

Many First Nations Communities Have Really Bad Quality Water, Does Anybody Care?

June 6, 2017

Tansi,
 
Our communities have very poor quality raw water, as do many First Nations communities. For many years, our communities struggled to produce safe drinking water. Fortunately, now we also have Integrated Biological Reverse Osmosis Membrane (IBROM) treatment systems. The IBROM systems have managed to attain quality water above and beyond the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, in fact the treated water quality in both of our communities meets all international regulations and standards!
 
Many other First Nations communities, unfortunately, are not nearly as lucky. All communities deserve to be as lucky as ours because good drinking water is something everybody deserves, regardless of where they live. We take this situation very seriously because our people deserve good water. What we need to improve their situations is education, all involved need to be educated (children, women, men, elders, councilors, chiefs, engineers, and water treatment plant operators). When we educate ourselves, we become more powerful. We gain the power to ask questions, to continue to ask questions until we are satisfied with the answer no matter who tries to undermine, change, or skew our opinions or ideas!
 
This power also gives us the confidence to question authority and refuse to accept the status quo; the status quo is not working! Look at how many communities have boil water advisories or do not drink orders! As of March 31, 2017, there were 100 long-term drinking water advisories and 31 short-term drinking water advisories in 89 First Nations communities south of 60 degrees, excluding British Columbia. 100 long-term drinking water advisories! Two of which have been in place for over 20 years!
 
We know there are many inferior treatment systems and they ALL cost First Nations billions of dollars every year all across this country. Sometimes, water treatment plants which will only last one or two years before encountering serious problems are built in First Nations. First Nations need water treatment plants which will run efficiently for many years! The problem is that the federal government’s low cost bid is simply not conducive to technically acceptable solutions treating water that includes some of the most challenging water sources globally.
 
We are very fortunate to be able to operate three water treatment plants that are on the exceptional side of the treatment spectrum. We need to educate other water treatment plant operators that the solution is out there! Dr. Hans Peterson has helped our communities so much, and he can help their communities too. The IBROM system can turn any source water, no matter how poor, into the best water on this planet – not only meeting Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality and all international standards and regulations, but also tasting and smelling great!

 Biofilters used in the IBROM process

Biofilters used in the IBROM process

 Reverse Osmosis Membranes used in the IBROM process. In the background there are distribution pumps and there is a lab bench in the water treatment plant.

Reverse Osmosis Membranes used in the IBROM process. In the background there are distribution pumps and there is a lab bench in the water treatment plant.

With the IBROM systems, our operational costs have been cut by 40%. This money can go back into the community for much-needed things! We can spend that money on our failing infrastructure!
 
What is needed to move forward? First Nations need their own group of professionals/experts/operators who can assist them or be there should any reserve have any upgrades or new water treatment plants on the horizon to advise what treatment, specific to their raw water quality, is needed. We, First Nations water treatment plant operators, need to share information with each other and with Chiefs and Councils about systems which are currently being used, which have been used in the past, what works, what does not, etc. We, as First Nations people, need to inform one another of what works. We need to share knowledge because knowledge is power!
 
We are so proud of the quality of the water we produce! We want other First Nations water treatment plant operators to feel this pride as well. It is time for the power of education to lead to pride in our communities!

Wishing All the Best for the Future of Our Communities,
 
Two IBROM Water Treatment Plant Operators in Saskatchewan First Nations Communities


Bob Pratt

Thoughts from a Circuit Rider/Water Operator

April 26, 2017

George Gordon First Nation, Saskatchewan, Canada

Tansi,  

My name is Bob Pratt. I am the Head Operator for George Gordon water and wastewater treatment. I have been the operator here for 28 years. I was also the oversight operator for all of the Touchwood Agency Tribal Council until Indian and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) decided to stop funding that position. I actually continued to help operators in other communities even after that, and I still do. The other operators need that support.

In my own community, I have seen water treatment go from manganese greensand on its own (12 years) to manganese greensand and Reverse Osmosis (RO) (5 years), which in 2005 was replaced by an Integrated Biological and Reverse Osmosis Membrane (IBROM) treatment process. I never could get the manganese greensand process to work. INAC sent in experts to figure out what I was doing wrong.

It turns out I was not doing anything wrong. It was confirmed that the manganese greensand process could never work on the poor quality raw water in our community. This was determined by experts, and in the end INAC agreed. But, it was a battle. How many other First Nations communities have water treatment processes that don’t work? As of February 28, 2017, there were 98 long-term drinking water advisories and 28 short-term drinking water advisories in 81 First Nations communities south of 60°, excluding British Columbia. Over 20 First Nations communities in Canada have had water advisories in their communities for over ten years. Two communities have been under boil water advisories for over twenty years. Many of these communities are dealing with very poor quality raw water and have water treatment processes that simply cannot meet the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

Health Canada only worries about “safe” drinking water, which really means that it will not harm you, but it can still taste and smell awful. Our new Prime Minister has stated that he would like to see “potable” drinking water in First Nations communities. That is a totally different kettle of fish. That means that the water is now supposed to taste okay and not smell like rotten eggs or anything else. Technologies that were used before like ion exchange and direct RO, in my mind, cannot be used any longer, as they will add taste or odour (or both) to most waters. But, the water still needs to be safe to drink, which excludes most conventional technologies when used on poor quality raw water sources.  

Dr. Hans Peterson determined in 2004 that with my poor raw water manganese greensand could not work either in theory or in practice. However, we changed engineering consultants every 5 years or so because they promised that “their” manganese greensand process was better than anybody else’s. It never was. How many other communities are going through the same process, paying a lot of money for treatment systems which could never work? But, have you ever asked for a second opinion? That means having a different engineering company come in and assess your situation and give you their cost for the retrofit or new plant that you are contemplating? Or maybe First Nations should have their own organization that checks the facts surrounding a water plant upgrade/replacement?

INAC typically acts as a banker and strongly favors the Low Cost Bid. That just means that the capital cost is the lowest. When this happens, only the cheapest equipment qualifies. Cheap valves, cheap pumps, cheap instrumentation. And often very expensive operational costs. I guess INAC doesn’t worry about that as all of those costs are coming out of the general revenue for the band.

I don’t believe I am alone in my previous predicaments. But, what do we do? Just accept poor quality tap water? Believe that the solution is with INAC/engineering companies? I used to backwash my 5 manganese greensand filters twice a day, that’s 70 filter backwashes per week. I used to clean my membranes every day. Still, the water was no good. The water was not safe for the people in my community and I felt horrible about the situation.

Fouled Membrane
Fouled Membrane

Fouled membranes

 These are pictures of fouled membranes from my water plant. Membranes are white when they are installed. The brown colour is from bacterial slime.

These are pictures of fouled membranes from my water plant. Membranes are white when they are installed. The brown colour is from bacterial slime.

Then, in 2005, it was shown that the IBROM process would work after a pilot was conducted. Our plant was converted into an IBROM plant. My backwashing went from 70 times per week to 1 or 2 times per week. My job totally changed, I was no longer backwashing 7 hours per day! Most importantly, as Health Canada can attest, my distributed water started to meet all global regulations and the World Health Organization’s guidelines!

Until the change to the IBROM I never really was proud of being the water operator as there were always problems in the distributed water. However, at 58 years of age (in 2005), I knew I would not further my career, that I would stay in the position of water operator until my retirement. I did not want to be an ashamed water treatment plant operator though; I wanted to be a proud one producing high quality water for my fellow community members! I am now the proud operator of a water treatment process that can produce truly safe and good tasting drinking water at every tap. The IBROM was developed at Yellow Quill First Nation between 2002 and 2004 and it has now been embraced by 17 other First Nations in Saskatchewan and Alberta. For more information please read the PDF document: “First Nations Deserve Safe and Good Tasting Tap Water.” If you have any questions for me or for anybody on the Safe Drinking Water Team please e-mail us at safedrinkingwaterteam@gmail.com.

I hope that this year we can make some big strides on the path to all First Nations communities in Canada being able to produce safe and good tasting tap water!

With Warm Greetings,
Bob Pratt
Voluntary Vice-President, Safe Drinking Water Team