Crumbling infrastructure and water-borne illness make Canada’s indigenous community fearful of getting water from the tap.
Years of neglect from their government have pushed the Curve Lake First Nation community to sue their government for US$1.7 billion, an amount they say is equivalent to the cumulative cost of buying bottled water, which they have relied on for many years.
For the community to see the freshwater surrounding the Curve Lake community and drink water from the bottle can be quite conflicting.
They feel let down by a government supposedly wealthy and water-rich to live in situations consistent with living arrangements in developing countries.
Heart of the issue
According to the Guardian Article, the 630 First Nations communities’ water problem stems from their colonial history.
Colonial-era laws have prohibited the Indigenous communities from funding and managing their water treatment system and leaving the responsibility to the federal government instead.
Also, only piped water or those flowing from the tap are protected by Canada’s safe drinking water regulation, excluding those in reserves.
Adding to the problem are the diverse geographic locations of indigenous communities. Some are accessible only by plane, making the building of water treatment infrastructure a logistical challenge.
Because of these, many indigenous communities have unsafe drinking water from many water issues like the presence of E Coli, toxic elements from negligent industrial practices, parasites, and bacteria, and the government has had to issue a lot of advisories warning against using the water and in some communities. These advisories have been going on for decades.
Failed water infrastructure upgrades
The article gave examples of failed attempts by the government to fix the Indigenous communities’ water problems.
The government had discarded its plan in 2011 to build a water treatment plant in Manitoba’s Shoal Lake 40 First Nation because of high costs.
Curve Lake’s water treatment plant was built in 1983 and was designed to serve only 56 people and have a life of 20 years, and it has not been upgraded since to meet the present demands.
A recent inspection from Ontario’s ministry of environment revealed a faulty filter and malfunctioning ultra-violet treatment.
According to the article, although the federal government plans to build a new facility, its construction is still years away.
Overall, the water problems of Canada’s indigenous communities are a result of interim measures by the government rather than as a result of long-term infrastructure planning and upgrade.
Whilst the USA also has much work to do with indigenous communities, the EPA-funded initiatives of the Environmental Finance Center Network provide an example of what can be achieved.