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June 14, 2024

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First Nations Water


WT Interview with Chief Bruce Achneepineskum, Marten Falls Update on Water Emergency. WT asked ISC Minister for a quote. We did not hear back. We reached out to ISC and got an automated message that they were closed.

WT: I have with me Chief Bruce Achneepineskum from Marten Falls, your community has just gone through a water crisis, tell us how this came to be, what happened and what’s happening now?

Chief Bruce: Well, there are some technical failures at our new water plant. I think part of the problem is the lack of training and capacity for our First Nation.

We don’t have the backup resources that municipalities have. We need more of a streamlined approach in terms of accessing training and adequate resources for training for a new plant. As you know, it’s a new state-of-the-art plant, and I guess it went down, both “trains” (a series of processes applied in sequence); we lost all water, there were no alarms given out. 

We were just trying to flush out the bugs with the new system, and this led to the technical failures there.

Being a remote community, it's hard to get that internet connection. We’re trying to use new systems like StarLink; we also have a fibre optic project on the go, but that’s delayed a couple of years, two years I think, before completion. So, we’re facing a number of factors that led to the technical breakdown. 

We don’t have adequate backup resources. We usually use Matawa First Nations for the Health Services they operate; they also are stretched thin, they service nine other communities in their Tribal Council.

WT: You wanted to evacuate your whole community, is that accurate?

Chief Bruce: Yeah, we had no water for going on our third day, two full days of no water. We had to shut down our essential services, nursing and medical services, police services, school services, administration services and all our residences didn’t have water. On top of that, we’re under boil water advisory, it was just a really hard time.

WT: What do you do now? Do you have someone from Matawa Nation running the plant?

Chief Bruce: Yes, Matawa Tribal Council has been helping, they came in the next day. They had one train going and are working on replacing the broken, part that technically failed. It should take two days to fix, and we should be up.

We are hoping that the one system that’s there doesn’t fail, and we have the second technical system that’s really supposed to be there as a backup, the second train.

WT: What happens if the Matawa fellows need to go home?

Chief Bruce: They are here to stay until it's done. It will be fixed by Sunday.

WT: Does the community have drinking water right now?

Chief Bruce: No, we don’t have drinking water. 

We have water to run to the houses. We are still under boil water advisory until we know the absolute efficiency, and also, reassurances from government on an action plan for lifting the BWA, we need adequate training dollars, adequate O & M dollars for running this plant, for the water portion (of our budget), for our operators.

The consultant had recommendations that fall short of the newly announced increase that ISC announced Aug 26, they made this notice that they increased our dollars, but the water portion doesn’t reach what the design consultant recommended.

WT: Is someone getting trained now?

Chief Bruce: No, we don’t have an action plan, for ensuring that the recommendations are met, we're trying to see some action from government, an actual training plan.

WT: Once the plant is fixed on Sunday, is someone trained going to be running the water plant?

Chief Bruce: That’s the problem, we only have one trained operator in the community, one certified operator. So, if he is out away on vacation, or out on medical leave, we don’t have a backup trained person. We need at least three operators trained in the community, to look after the plant, 24/7 365 days a year.

WT: Has ISC been in touch with you about this, getting someone else trained?

Chief Bruce: Well, they have been in touch with us, but they haven’t addressed the issue. We are just starting to address the issue.

WT: When is your next call with them, I would think that would be really urgent, you need someone trained and right away!

Chief Bruce: I will be sending out a letter to (ISC) on this, on my recommendations on lifting the BWA, ensuring that we don’t have technical failures, ensuring that we have access to capacity.

What happens when a municipality has a breakdown? They call and someone will get there within an hour or so. We don’t have that luxury. We don’t have a large budget; we don’t have the resources or an agency that can help and come to our assistance. 

We are just trying to get proper capacity, and training dollars, and the technical help we need.

WT: Ok thanks Chief Bruce, we want to help you get this solved, have the best day you can.


Previous Interview with Chief Bruce Achneepineskum:
20-year old BWA to remain in effect until operations and maintenance funding is secured - 2021/8/16


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

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