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June 14, 2024

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First Nations

brought to you in part by

Natural Action Technologies


WT staff

The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.

WT - I'd like to welcome Frederick Dubeau. He's the water treatment manager for the Chippewa of Nawash Unceded First Nations. Thanks for doing this, Fred.

Dubeau - Yeah, no problem.

WT - Can you tell my viewers where your community is and approximately how many people live there?

Dubeau - Thereís about 1000 people living on the reserve and Iíve been here four years as the manager.

WT - Iím understanding that youíre under a boil water advisory still right now is that correct?

Dubeau - Thatís correct.

WT - Why are you under a boil water advisory?

Dubeau - There is many deficiencies with the current existing plant, where we canít meet provincial regulations that is, and that is what we strive for, the most stringent rules.

WT - Continuing along that, is it a question of money to fix the plant or it just got old or where do the deficiencies come from?

Dubeau - Actually when the plant was built the deficiencies would have been right from the inception of the original plant that is built here in 1990. We have pressure treated filters that are uncertified, not stamped, thereís no clearwall so thereís no CT time, yeah thereís just other numerous infractions based on the plant that canít meet any of the provincial regulations.

WT - So further to that my understanding is your getting a new water plant and your almost through getting permission to build it. Can you give my viewers a sense of how one goes about getting a new water plant and sort of how does it work?

Dubeau - Sure, so basically because of the long-term boil water advisory we applied to get funding from the federal government, theyíve given us $22.5 million however the full project is going to be about $55 million. So now were reapplying to the government for that extra funding. Our distribution also needs completely redone because it wasnít done properly in the first place. So all piping needs ripped out of the ground and new piping in. We estimate about 70 percent of what leaves our water treatment plant goes into the ground due to leakage.

WT - When you say the pipes were improperly put in is that sort of no fault of the band or was the thing designed improperly?

Dubeau - Yeah, it was designed improperly and basically when the piping was put in there was no bedding, basically whatever was in the ground is whatís laying on top of the pipe, and a lot of the service connection lines are farm grade piping that can handle you know, 40 to 80 psi and its not the 150 psi class, thatís a major issue. Weíve also found garden hose in the ground if you can believe it, as part of our distribution lines.

WT - Garden hose?

Dubeau - Yep.

WT - Ok well Iíll leave that for the viewer to think about.

When was this improper install set up noticed and given that it was noticed and that youíve got now approximately half the money to do this right cam you tell me do you have expectations for receiving the other half almost of the funds you need and whatís your way forward now?

Dubeau - So we are on a water team with people from ISC and other discussions with the RDG now weíve put together a plan to resubmit to headquarters and to get the rest of the money thatís required. One of the things I do is Iím kind of a trouble shooting specialist, Iíve spent 25 years in the municipal sector before coming here so Iíve seen a thing or two, but I either do it right or I donít do it all. So you donít take half the money and do half the job. If you only got half the money then you do half of it 100 percent right, if that makes sense.

WT - When was the deficient work noticed? If I go to home hardware and buy a part and I install a part, I would notice something wrong there, is that how this happened or can you tell me a bit of how people came to discover this was all a mess?

Dubeau - Sure, so basically when I came just having the knowledge I have from my past experiences and stuff, when I started doing my first day then thatís kind of when I noticed, back in 2017. And then from there its inquiring about okay where is my water going, whereís my flows? When I first arrived here the plant was ready to fall apart and by me basically rebuilding it, you know, to what I could do myself, and then getting the flows properly recording and then I went, why are we losing so much water, which led to me going into the distribution and doing more checks that way. And then with more digs and trying to fix our leak situation, but thereís just so many leaks its almost impossible to do. Thatís when we noticed in 2017.

WT - Iím on your website right now and it seems to, thereís a great chart here of how this new plant came to be, design consultant, award, water main leakage investigation completed, due diligence and then it seems to stop in December 20 in progress. How come it stopped?

Dubeau - We are in the design phase, in fact we just had a team meeting we meet every 2 weeks thatís with ISC and the two engineering firms that weíve hired, and also with myself and capital and capital assistance so it is on going we are like I said 66% base of design, 99 should be of next month and then construction will begin sometime this year however once again the funds that are required to complete the project are still kind of up in the air.

WT - When you say up in the air can you give me a sense of what that means that the money might not come, that thereís issues around the design, whereís the hold up?

Dubeau - Basically just to reapply to the government to get the rest of the funds that are required. So when it was estimated originally they didnít really realize the potential of all of the distribution problems that we had and now that they realize that now weíve had to reapply for more money, however when ISC originally reported verbally to us that we would be getting $35 million and then when the paper work came across it was $22.5 (million), so we lost a bunch of money between verbal translation and paper translation. Now with estimates coming in from the two engineering firms were looking at about $55 million for the complete project.

WT - Iím going to revisit the translation difference. If I understand you correctly $35 (million) was asked for and 35 was agreed to begin with and then in my mind a cheque shows up for 22 but is there an explanation for the difference?

Dubeau - Actually we donít have a cheque for 22 we just have a Indigenous Services Canada letter from RRDT stating we get 22.5 million but like I said it was announced to chief and council 35, but between verbal translation and letter translation ISC seems to have forgotten about the verbal.

WT - When you say Isk, you mean Indigenous Service Canada (ISC) is that what your referring to?

Dubeau - Yep.

WT - Ok, so give me a sense then, you sound like the person on the ground here, what is it like for the people in your community under this boil water advisory. Can you give me a sense of how the people see it and what actually happens to a community when they are under BWA?

Dubeau - Sure, so basically everyone has to boil their water for 2 minutes at rumbling boil and its just a pain in the behind kind of thing to put it properly, especially for the elderly people. Not only that, but I estimate about 1.2 million water bottles are going into the land fill here as well each year, just based on the average consumption of a person, so it has a trickling effect. So, its not only just the water crisis, youíre compounding that with the land fill crisis on top of that. So its very challenging and I think even once the new plant, its going to be challenging to make everybody aware that the water is safe. Its hard to change that conception.

WT - Iíve heard that in other communities as well, once the water is declared safe people are still fairly unsure if they trust it hey, is that what your discussing?

Dubeau - Yeah exactly, theyíre still skeptical that it is safe which you know, Walkerton is a good thing to bring up, I mean it happened there and there is still people there that still donít trust the water.

WT - Yeah unfortunately, yeah agree there. Ok, So going forward, when does your council and yourself have expectations of OK turn the taps on, the water is clean weíre good to go?

Dubeau - So 2023 is whatís projected, I believe its June of 2023 that the water plant should be up and running with distribution.

WT - Between here and there, thereís going to be 1.2 million more bottles in the landfill.

Dubeau - Correct. More than that probably because its still 2 years probably, so were looking at probably 2.4 million bottles of water in there.

WT - When you look back now Fred at all of this, was there something that anybody could have done sooner, faster to have not put the community through this?

Dubeau - It could have happened sooner, on my first day here in February 2017, I was ready to call a boil water just due to the fact that the conditions of the water plant and not being able to meet (regulations), however your first day on the job going from Municipal to federal guidelines its probably not the most popular thing to do, so I fixed what I could. I phoned Health Canada, its just two different types of rules when your talking municipal to reserve. And the rules do need to be changed when it comes to reservation water because as we know under provincial thereís regulation 17003 that has to be followed and 12804 and this Drinking Water Act where on the federal side thereís just guidelines. And itís a tragedy really, I used to say Walkerton, sure itís a tragedy but Iím glad it happened in the municipal sector to make rules change instead of a reserve because then things wouldnít change, but then I stopped saying that because they are happening on the reserves and nothing is changing.

So you know thereís many that we can cite, Grassy Narrows, and such like that, and the other community that had to be moved to Winnipeg and such, so you know you canít say that anymore. I was flying into a remote community north of Winnipeg before the pandemic hit and Iíve been there 4 or 5 times to assess their boil water and give the government documents and recommendations on change, Iím kind of a trouble shooting expert self proclaimed, but yeah there was many deficiencies there that could have been corrected. It was funny because I had a flight back with ISC on a chartered flight and one of my, Iím just kind of citing something thatís a you know, one of my recommendations was a new chlorine analyzer and the government was very proud that they got a new chlorine analyzer and then I had to quickly point out they bought a piece of junk, to put it lightly, something that a seasoned veteran wouldnít want to clean because its too intricate parts and pieces and I said basically its going to be a throw away. So you know, thereís got to be changes in the government, the way they do things, cheapest is not always the best.

WT - I interviewed the Minister of Indigenous Services several weeks ago, I would urge you to use your next statement here to tell Minister Miller what you think has to change in a succinct paragraph.

Dubeau - I think training has to be changed, so that way operators are trained to know what to do and what to look for. I believe that money has to be pumped in not only to fix plants but you need to put proper equipment and quality equipment in these places, and have engineers do their due diligence for that. I also think another way to correct things is to do things right, you canít put half of the money in and expect a full outcome, but training is a major factor. You could put a brand-new plant in a northern community but without proper training you really havenít done much because it will fall apart.

WT - I think that Iíll be passing that on. Id like to thank you for doing this. Fredrick Dubeau is a water treatment plant operator with a class 3 and class 2. Thanks very much for doing this.

Dubeau - Thank you very much.


The saga of long-term water advisories in First Nations communities

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