The Indigenous Water Crisis - EnvironBuzz

The Indigenous Water Crisis

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There is an indigenous water crisis in North America. Since colonization, the Indigenous population in North America specifically in Canada, has been often overlooked and underrepresented. This situation often left room for problems and disputes on reservations to be ignored and unnoticed. More specifically, issues concerning water and drinking water advisories have been implemented and left as is. It is scary to know that it still manages to have some of its citizens living without clean drinking water for a first-world country with the most renewable freshwater per person and lakes than any other country. The government of Canada relies a lot on drinking water advisories in impacted communities in addressing contaminated water issues.

What is a drinking water advisory, and why is it issued?

Drinking water advisories are warnings to warn/advise people not to drink water that may be unsafe or is known to not be safe based on the results from water quality tests. These advisories effects can range from a single building to a whole community, implying that a single drinking water advisory can suggest that as many as 5000 people do not have access to clean drinking water. There are many causes for drinking water advisories, such as line breaks, equipment failure and poor filtration or disinfection during water treatment. In addition to being used as a precautionary measure for repairs or maintenance. 73% of First Nations’ water systems are at high or medium risk of contamination

A drinking water advisory is essential because when a concern arises about drinking water quality, the environmental health officer employed by the government of Canada or First Nations stakeholders will advise the chief and council. The advice must be given right away, be verbal and written, and include the appropriate recommendation(s), such as what type of drinking water advisory should be issued. After the advice has been given, the responsibility falls on the chief and council’s shoulders to issue or lift a drinking water advisory and take necessary actions to address the cause of the drinking water advisory.

What are the types of drinking water advisories?

There are three types of water drinking water advisories; boil water advisory, do not consume advisory, and do not use advisory.

Boil water advisories state that users should bring their tap water to a rolling boil for at least 1 minute before; drinking, washing hands, bathing, preparing food, washing clothing, etc. In addition, infants, toddlers, and the elderly should not use tap water for bathing to avoid swallowing the water. These types of advisories are issued where there are problems with the water treatment systems or when the results from water quality tests indicate the presence of disease-causing viruses, bacteria, or parasites. 

Do not consume advisories state that users should not use their tap water for consumption purposes, including cooking, drinking, feeding pets, making ice, brushing teeth, etc. Do not consume/drink advisories are put in place when the water system has difficulty removing contaminants from the water by boiling.

Do not use advisories to warn the public that they should not use their tap water for any reason. This type of advisory is issued when the water has pollutants that one can not remove through boiling, posing a health risk, and even exposure can cause irritation to skin, eyes, nose, etc.

What has been done?

Something to be mindful of is the length of some of the water advisories. Some have been in place for 20 years, like Shoal Lake 40 First Nation. In 2016, there were 105 communities with long-term drinking water advisories in place. That number is down to 52 advisories in 33 communities. The Trudeau government said that figure is high due to restrictions faced by the pandemic; however, an audit report has shown the government had insufficient resources to address the issue. They delayed the majority of the work even before the pandemic. In addition, the audit report showed many advisories that had been lifted were because of interim measures rather than long-term ones, leaving the indigenous water crisis unsolved.


Sources

Drinking water advisories   // . Drinking Water Advisories. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.fnha.ca/what-we-do/environmental-health/drinking-water-advisories

Drinking water advisories   // . Drinking Water Advisories. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.fnha.ca/what-we-do/environmental-health/drinking-water-advisories

Environment. Statistics Canada: Canada’s national statistical agency / Statistique Canada : Organisme statistique national du Canada. (2018, January 17). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/11-402-x/2011000/chap/env/env-eng.htm

Government of Canada, O. of the A. G. of C. (n.d.). Report 3-access to safe drinking water in First Nations communities-Indigenous Services Canada. Report 3-Access to Safe Drinking Water in First Nations Communities-Indigenous Services Canada. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.oag-bvg.gc.ca/internet/English/parl_oag_202102_03_e_43749.html#hd5a

Government of Canada; Indigenous Services Canada. (2021, February 19). About drinking water advisories. Government of Canada; Indigenous Services Canada. Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://www.sac-isc.gc.ca/eng/1538160229321/1538160276874#a1

Safe water for first nations. The Council of Canadians. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://canadians.org/fn-water#:~:text=The%20Trudeau%20government%20committed%20to,(P3s)%20as%20a%20solution| news | University of Calgary. (n.d.). Retrieved February 24, 2022, from https://ucalgary.ca/news/tip-iceberg-true-state-drinking-water-advisories-first-nations

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The Indigenous Water Crisis

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Loheny Ketheeswaran

Loheny is currently studying Environmental Engineering at the University of Waterloo, Ontario Canada.
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