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PETER BALLANTYNE CREE: O&M FUNDING UNCHANGED SINCE THE 8O's. PIPES IN SUCH POOR SHAPE ONE REPAIR OFTEN TURNS INTO MULTIPLE REPAIRS DOWN THE LINE
The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.
WT - I'm here on the phone with Brian Phaneuf, Former Water Manager for Prince Albert Grand Council.
Iíd like to thank you for doing this.
Phaneuf - Okay, youíre welcome.
WT - Can you tell us about your community, how many folks are there, when it all began, a little bit of back history?
Phaneuf - Well I work for the Prince Albert Grand Council, that is twelve First Nations, I believe its 28 communities, so thatís it in a nutshell, we have many different types of water treatment processes, many different size of communities, PAGC population that we serve is about forty thousand.
WT - Iím trying to find out, there was a BWA listed for one of your communities, I understand that it has just been lifted, can you tell me how this came to be?
Phaneuf - You would be talking about Joseph Custer reserve, which is actually an urban reserve in Prince Albert (Saskatchewan). We receive water from the city for the system. Now the boil water (advisory) was a result of pressure drops within our own system, which we presently have a project to remedy which would start up again in May, I would guess.
So it was really an operations and maintenance style water advisory Ė due to pressure losses.
WT - So you are getting clean water from the City of Prince Albert to your system, into that community, my understanding is there is something wrong with the pipes, is that about right?
Phaneuf - Yeah, there was something wrong with the pipes in that particular instance, that has since been repaired, the boil water has been rescinded. We presently have a project that was started last fall to replace the existing infrastructure here, sewer and water, much of that is early sixties, some may extend back to WWII days, this was an army barracks training centre and some of the infrastructure may have been there from that, we donít have the records. The land was transferred to the Cree Nation in early nineties/late eighties and thus anything before that, we donít have records of.
WT - In your other communities, is water an issue, or is it fairly straight forward and working well?
Phaneuf - Well we have had water issues, and we just had a long term boil water in Black Lake, 12 to 16 years. The water plant was upgraded recently and has just gone on-line, so that long term boil water advisory has been resolved. I believe in mid summer or fall.
WT - Iím wondering then, this community predates Canada and my understanding is, at one time this was part of Rupertís land. Is that right?
Phaneuf - That could be, my history on Prince Albert is not that great but I understand that to be true , yep.
WT - I also have done a little bit of research around other military bases and this kind of thing. Have you tested these pipes, for lead, this kind of thing, or has that all stopped because youíre doing new pipes now?
Phaneuf - Yeah, I think its basically stopped since I donít think we tested for lead. The issue we had was distribution lines. A lot of the buildings that exist here were put in late 60s, 70s as a part of a residential school. Our issue, we applied for this (infrastructure distribution lines) upgrade 10 plus years ago and it was denied by the federal government being that because itís an urban reserve and it doesnít have a residential component to it that the federal government didnít feel like it was in their wheelhouse to have to do this. Two years ago we applied again and pushed health and safety issues and it was approved.
WT - Does it mean that your community didnít have quality water for 10 years, is that sort of the background here?
Phaneuf - No, its not really we didnít have quality water, we didnít have a quality distribution system.
So we had numerous breaks in the distribution lines. Once we initiated a repair and turned the water back on, because the pipes were in such poor shape, the additional pressure due to the repair would sometimes rupture the pipe 20 ,30 feet away so each repair turned into two repairs or you know multiple repairs.
WT - What did the people say about this kind of thing, they just live with it and get used to it, I mean where I live I have good water I expect the pipes to work.
Phaneuf - Well in this particular circumstance, like I said were an urban reserve, were an office configuration for many of the reserves so we don have a residential component here. So in terms of the people occupying the offices and things like that, at the time when repairs were underway of course they were without water and quite a lot of times the offices were shut down until that work was done. Usually the repairs could be done in 2 days 3 days at the most. So, Iím sure thereís people that complained about it but there wasnít a large impact.
WT - In the rest of the communities you represent do you see any big water issues coming up?
Phaneuf - Yeah, well I think the major issue we have with any community is the fact that the operation and maintenance funding provided by the federal government hasnít changed since the mid 80ís. Obviously, costs have near tripled since then just on the labour side, and again on the material side. So this has not been addressed. In terms of maintaining the water treatment plants to the prime level, it's been a challenge for each of these bands because they donít necessarily have that money and thereís always a shortfall. Subsequently, some items that should have been maintained or replaced as part of maintenance cycle could not be done because there was a lack of money. Subsequently some of these units later on ended up being scrapped by federal government because they came to total failure.
WT - Do you think that it has been fixed enough or do you expect some catastrophic issue in the future because of the lack of maintenance money?
Phaneuf - Well, in terms of catastrophic in terms of health and safety, I donít really see that happening in our communities, however it all depends on the definition of catastrophic. I do feel that when our new plants we put on that are state of the art plants and they have a lot of computerized controls, and monitoring systems and new filtration systems, that the present level of funding by the government doesnít take into consideration the new technology thatís been added to these and funding levels do not reflect that, they are basically the same as the 80ís where we had mechanical systems and chemical feeds that were low cost items.
Presently some of our filtration systems, weíre replacing one thatís only 5 years old I believe and its almost a million dollars to replace that in 5 years. These are the things, and the federal government has stepped up and is paying for that replacement of filters. If the band was stuck with having to cover that cost themselves that would be catastrophic because without the funds it may not be done for a long time and we would be running with a long-term boil water advisory if the treatment process couldnít be fixed.
WT - Out of 10, how would you rate the federal government response to your water issues and to these budget issues?
Phaneuf - Well, for the budget issues I wouldnít rate them very highly. Probably 0 out of 10. In terms of the new water plants that have been constructed to meet issues in terms of water quality and things like that, I would rate it pretty highly, 7 out of 10 probably. Weíve been fortunate that most of our communities have relatively good treatment processes and facilities, the ones that arenít quite as good are under project right now and we hope in 2 years or so we have most of our plants to top level.
WT - I know that Minister Miller listens to our interviews, if you had something to say to the minister what would it be?
Phaneuf - Well basically, to the Minister I would say, I know he is saying the operation and maintenance funding is under review and expect it to come forward pretty soon. My only comment on that is weíve probably been hearing that from various governments for 10 years. So, I guess weíve all taken a wait and see attitude. Its definitely needed, something we need absolutely to maintain good services on reserve. Hopefully weíve heard recently it (O &M increase) may come out this year. I hope it will.
WT - Brian, I want to thank you for doing this.
The saga of long-term water advisories in First Nations communities
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