First Nations Water
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COLLAPSED WATER WELLS, TRUCKED IN WATER, UNCERTIFIED OPERATORS,
LITTLE PINE'S LONG SLOG TO SAFE DRINKING WATER
The transciption below has been edited for clarity and length.
WT - Carl Kennedy has agreed to do this interview with WT. Carl is a councillor with Little Pine First Nation in Saskatchewan. Thanks for doing this, Carl.
Kennedy - Good morning, Glad to be here.
WT -Yeah, it's excellent that you are here. This is timely. Can you tell my viewers where your community is and how many people live there?
Kennedy - Good morning. Yes, I'm from Little Pine First Nation. I'm in northwest Saskatchewan, close to the city of Lloyminster, About four to five minutes east. And on reserve, we've got about 800 people, total populations, 2200. We are a Plains Cree community.
WT - You've been under a long term boil water advisory since November 18th, 2018. What's the problem with the system and how did we come to be here with such a long term BWA?
Kennedy - Correct. We have a small system for, say, maybe five hundred people, some wells have gone out of service; we ran out of water. We have certified operators that have moved on, found better jobs or just returned to the construction industry. So that's how we come on boil water advisory. So that's what we're still dealing with to this day.
WT - Carl, is it money that the band needs to fix this is, is it a better consultant or is it a working water plant? Can you tell me, in your words, where is the fix? What needs to happen?
Kennedy - Well, what's happening now is we're at the design stage for an approved new water treatment plant and we have a certified operator here that's teaching two young people that are willing to stay home and look after the plant. They're on a shift rotation and it's been like that about six months. It's our own open source funding that is doing this.
We've had a renovation to the existing water treatment plant and some of the wells. So it's just a matter of pushing, pushing and advocating for our community and lobbying . Like I have done everything possible along with the support of my colleagues, which is good.
Hopefully, these two young people pass their provincial exam to get certified. We have enough water now. So it's just a matter of working together. The right people are helping us design-wise; the rep form Indigenous Services Canada is on the same page. And there's a willingness to get the problem corrected, I guess.
WT - When you say willingness, is this the province paying for the plant? Is there an estimate of how long it will take to get clean drinking water every day for the community?
Kennedy - It's a federal initiative, I guess, from Indigenous Services Canada, their new name eh. In our community, they've approved a new water treatment plant. In terms of funding for operators, there's nothing right now because you've got to have certified operators. So it's kind of like we're finding our own source revenue to pay for these two young people and the contractor to run our plant in the meantime. The boil water advisory will stay in place until we have a new plan to have certified operators and we feel comfortable.
WT - How long will this take Carl?
Kennedy - Oh, jeez, at least another year, I would say. We're at a pre-design stage right now. Testing the ground where the water treatment plant is going to go, they're designing the size of it, the filter system, the type of water that's going to be treated. So certainly, a state-of-the-art up-to-date plant. Which we're happy for, I guess eh?
WT - When Canadians read the Globe and Mail, watch CBC, this type of thing, we often get statistics from Indigenous Services Canada where they're saying, OK, we are putting another one point eight billion towards drinking water systems. We're doing this. We're doing that.
And I'm trying to give my viewers a sense of what it's really like, sort of put a human face on what these bwas mean and what this money means. Can you tell my viewers a little bit about the stress in the community and how people are dealing with this and how much fun it isn't at all.
Kennedy - We've run out of water because are pumps just ouright caved in or collapsed because we we're taking too much water too fast, because there's a high demand and there wasn't enough wells online, There was three wells that were dug, but they weren't trenched into the system. We asked and we asked and we were told, wait, wait. And we finally just broke down and found our own revenue and hooked them up.
Indian Affairs turned around and reimbursed us a year later for that. It's kind of like this is over 10 years in the making where we're at today.
We've run out of water. We've had to get it trucked in from Lloyminster. We've had to shut it off during the day. We've had to close the school because of no drinking water, no bathrooms. We couldn't put the kids through that, so we sent them home for a while and all the time things happened. We can't be proactive because we never know what's going to happen.
For example, one of the pipes busted in the water treatment plant and sprayed all over the computer that runs things and we limped along for a couple of weeks so that was replaced, and the story goes on and on. But I know, in other communities, when you compare, there's some people that don't have nothing; they're punching holes in the ice to get fresh water or they have a well there, but no way to get it to their housing, you know, like.
I put us in the middle of the pack with all the things that are happening all over Canada, so we're fortunate enough. There's fresh water around us. And also. I don't know. I don't know. I'm just lucky I have the support of my colleagues when something does happen. I was one of the first trained operators here. I have a good idea as to what to do and who to call. So, we do have fresh water on a daily basis for the most part, but because we have no operators and we can't guarantee safe drinking water 24 hours a day. That's where we're at. That's why we have a boil water advisory.
WT - If you could say something to the Canadians that will read this article, what would you say from you to them? What do you want?
Kennedy - What I want is that new plant finished, and hopefully it's big enough so that when our population increases that it keeps up. Our water production and water demand are kind of like equal now. But we have three wells on standby to hook up, then our water production will be ahead of demand.
And I wish everybody had safe drinking water. We have a little community beside us that's Caucasian and they have water problems more than us and unfortunately, they have to do it themselves, a Band-Aid solution. They're not going to get a water treatment plant. So, I count myself lucky, I guess.
WT - Just before I get off the phone, WaterToday covers renewable energy quite a bit. And when I was looking at your band's profile, there's something called Blue Hill Energy mentioned. Can you tell me a little bit about what Blue Hill Energy is?
Kennedy - Blue Energy is our oil and gas company. But right now, it's at a standstill because oil prices are in the dumps. And I guess if we do go back to it, I think one of the things that we should look at is, like you said, renewable resources.
The saga of long-term water advisories in First Nations communities
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