The cost of clean water

by Aaron Wherry

The Harper government announced yesterday that it will invest $330.8 million over two years “to sustain progress made to build and renovate water and wastewater infrastructure on reserve and to support the development of a long-term strategy to improve water quality in First Nation communities.” The funding commitment is about nine and a half months old, having first been made in the budget. At that time the Assembly of First Nations deemed it insufficient.

The 2012 budget commitment of $330 million over two years represents a continuation of the federal program. The two-year investment falls short of the estimated $4.7 billion in funding required as identified by the 2011 National Engineering Assessment. First Nations must continue to engage with the Government of Canada to develop a plan to implement the recommendations of the 2011 study and ensure a clear plan of investment.

The National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems was released in July 2011. The total cost for new servicing was projected to be $4.7 billion over ten years, but that projection comes with some caveats.

The contractor also projected the cost, over 10 years, of ensuring that water and wastewater systems for First Nations are able to grow with First Nation communities. Including the aforementioned $1.2 billion to meet the department’s current protocols, the contractor’s projections for the cost of new servicing is $4.7 billion.

Of this, the contractor also estimated future servicing costs in excess of $60,000 per home for 55 per cent of the communities.

As this cost per home is high, the contractor also recognized that, at a certain point, the cost of providing a typical servicing solution may begin to exceed the benefits of that solution.

While increasing funding for capital projects may seem like the only solution, it is important to recognize that the report states that only 30 per cent of the risk identified in high risk systems was due to design risk and infrastructure.

The costs outlined in the National Assessment are estimates which were provided to support planning to meet both short-term and long-term water and wastewater needs of First Nation communities. However, the estimates will not replace the more detailed feasibility studies needed to assess and price specific projects.

As the National Assessment report notes, the 10-year growth estimates in the National Assessment are based on a series of assumptions. For example, the assessment recommends full piped systems for many communities where such a system may not be the most cost-effective or sustainable option that also meets the health and safety requirements. Another example is future growth requirements which are based on a projected housing growth of 4,400 houses per year. This is significantly higher than the average net growth of 1,700 houses per year over the past five years.

The Department will work closely with First Nations to ensure that new projects identify the most cost-effective ways to appropriately meet a community’s health and safety needs. In many cases this may mean supporting First Nations in developing smaller systems, such as wells and cisterns.

Here is the AFN’s response to the national assessment. The CBC looked closer at the issue of water on reserves in November 2011.

I asked John Duncan’s office yesterday if the Harper government planned to increase funding to match the $4.7 billion projection. Here is the response.

The data and recommendations from the National Assessment informed funding decisions for the 2012-2013 fiscal year and will continue to inform development of long-term plans to support First Nations in delivering safe drinking water and effective treatment of wastewater in First Nation communities.

The costs outlined in the National Assessment are estimates which were provided to support planning to meet both short term and long term water and wastewater needs of First Nations communities. However, the estimates will not replace the more detailed feasibility studies needed to assess and price specific projects.

Today’s announcement detailing our government’s plan for new investments in First Nation water and wastewater systems on reserve, is part of a comprehensive long-term plan to improve on-reserve water and wastewater founded on three pillars: enhanced capacity building and operation training; enforceable standards and protocols; and infrastructure investments.

Our government is taking action to ensure First Nation communities have the same access to safe, clean drinking water as all Canadians. We recognize that more needs to be done to reduce risk levels and deliver results for water and wastewater systems on-reserve.

Between 2006 and 2014, the Government of Canada will have invested approximately $3 billion to support First Nation communities in managing their water and wastewater infrastructure and in related public-health activities.




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The cost of clean water

  1. And if no natives are trained in the running and repair of the plants…..the whole effort is a waste of time and money.

    • WOW! I………like……agree! I don’t know how it works on reserve, but any Municipal water treatment plant in Alberta needs certified operators.

      • You’d think that would be obvious, no?

        Apparently not. Reserves often have no one trained to do the job…and help is a thousand miles away.

        • So why does no one on the reserve go get the education necessary?

          • Many natives have less than elementary school…Chief Spence has 7/8 apparently…others have grade 2 or 3.

            Certified operators need high school….and you can’t make that leap by yourself.

            Reserves are supposed to have schools and teachers, but a lot of them don’t. Hard to get teachers to work a thousand miles from nowhere.

            Half of the FN are under 25….and more than 40% never finish high school. Even then, it’s often a half-assed version of high school, and they have to then compete for college or university placement with kids from middle class families in say…Toronto.

            It’s a very different life.

            Only 12% get a degree.

          • I read a lot of whining and excuses in your posts, but no suggestions.

            Indians need to get off their butts and get the education needed. It’s free to the end of Grade XII, after all.

            And if the reserves are so hostile to teachers that they don’t want to stay, then that’s a problem also entirely in the hands of the indians on the reserve.

            If it takes going to Timmins or The Pas to find a school, then do that.

            Otherwise their problems are going to continue to be all their own fault.

          • Focus you idiot….they don’t have any education for a reason…there are often no schools or teachers.

            Where did you get the idea reserves are hostile to teachers?? They respect teachers….!

            No, it’s our fault. We agreed to supply these things. We lied.

          • When I taught in The Pas one of our colleagues in Pukatawagan was burned out of his ATCO because half a dozen of the local indians didn’t like him. He barely escaped with his life.

            Everyone on the reserve seemed to know who did it, and my colleague had a good idea himself, but nobody wanted to talk and the RCMP were unable to gather any evidence.

            He was told to leave by the local chief. And he left.

          • And for all you know he was molesting kids.

          • No, he was having some success with some of the girls on the reserve.

            Don’t be a pervert; get your mind out of the gutter.

          • Then you know they weren’t anti-education, or anti-teacher….and that it only applied to one man for a specific reason.

          • Read the Constitution.

          • The Constitution says nothing about what’s in or not in the treaties. In particular neither the Constitution nor the treaties contain promises to supply endless education.

            As I’ve said before, government generosity and the Supreme Court’s biased ideology are the source of current expenditures, but they’re not anything remotely like treaty promises.

          • The Constitution guarantees the treaties. Sorry.

          • “They respect teachers….!”

            Apparently not enough to make sure their kids actually attend school.

          • Enough with the fairy stories. Either source something or clam up

          • I read J. Kay’s article about his trip to several well-run northern communities. He visited a class where native workers are being taught to operate their own water systems. There are success stories–they just haven’t been getting as much press as Attawapiskat.

    • But very lucrative for outside firms. Opportunities abound for the firms favoured by the government.

      • Oh very….but like Spence says…it all goes back to white taxpayers anyway,

        Contracters, consultants, lawyers….are all white. Natives end up with public works they can’t operate.

    • Or if they don’t bother to try, like at Kashechwan where the solution to the problem of the turbidity alarm going off was to disconnect the alarm…

        • Then somebody needs to try to fix it, try to figure it out, realize that there is a problem.

          In Kashechewan, the problem was that beavers had dammed the sewage outlet area, and sewage was backing up upstream of the water plant. The last professional trapper was elderly and had retired, and nobody could be found willing to trap out that particular beaver colony.

          It was not a problem with the water plant’s system, but one of the environment.

          The same environment about which the indians are so widely touted as being all-knowing.

          And how much training had the operators been doing? Any? Did they bother to read the manuals? Were they even capable of reading the manuals?

          • We KNOW there is a problem! We just don’t DO anything about it!

            Who is touting natives as being all-knowing? Is this some Tonto thing?

            Natives were hunter-gatherers and farmers when their culture was smashed….and people were scattered…even to residential schools. What subsistance knowledge they had has long since been lost. Along with languages and ritual and laws and everything else.

            The operators weren’t native as far as I know….white men on call probably. But no, the natives likely couldn’t read or understand any manuals.

          • What happened to all the rhetoric about indians being ‘stewards of the environment’, ‘connected to the land’, and all that other rubbish?

            This is THEIR little town. Where I grew up I knew the woods around the town for ten or fifteen kilometres, in some directions as much as 30 km.

            And that’s as an ordinary kid who had to go to school every day the school was open, and after the age of 15 had to have a summer job occupying much of my time.

            Had I ever seen beavers flooding the town’s sewage lagoons I’d have certainly reported the problem. And expected somebody to do something about it, somebody authorized to shoot the beavers.

            And it’s not WE who aren’t doing anything about it, in case you’re writing about society at large. It’s the indians on the reserves who fail to do anything, not even those things within their grasp.

          • Kindly stop trying to drag your Davy Crockett nonsense into it. You were some rural/farm kid, not a PhD in environmental science….or even a trapper for that matter

            Maybe one in a million people would recognize or even know about a sewage lagoon.

            Hint….you can’t shoot everything either.

            WE…society at large….through our govt…are responsible for keeping our word on the treaties. Period.

          • I knew what a sewage lagoon was, and wandered all throughout the woods for my own amusement, ‘plinking’ squirrels with my friends and hunting various game during hunting seasons. It’s hardly Davy Crockett stuff, but ordinary rural living.

            And yes, indians can shoot beavers any time they want, or trap them.

            “… society at large…”
            You see, that’s the problem, this paternalistic attitude that ‘we’ have to fix all the problems the indians have. The Crown still lavishly overpays the treaty obligations, due in part to government generosity and in part due to a perversely biased Court ideology that the Supreme Court itself admits as it gives directive to lower courts to favour reserves or indians (as the case might be).

          • Hint….not everybody lived your boyhood

            I said you can’t solve every problem by shooting it.

            The paternalistic attitude we have involves the Indian Act…..and the fact we’d rather be paternalistic than keep up our treaty agreements.

          • Beavers are a problem you can shoot. Or in the winter to trap the matriarch beaver (and trigger the dissolution of the colony) put the drown set traps on the far side of the lodge from the food stash… because the matriarch always circles the lodge before going to eat, whereas the young-of-the-year and the males go straight to the food.

            We overpay our treaty agreements, and the insistence on a fiduciary relationship means unavoidably government control… otherwise the fiduciary duty cannot be performed.

  2. What treaty, or section of the Constitution, or case law, guarantees free $50 million water treatment plants on each of Canada’s 630+ reserves? Be *extremely* specific & provide link if possible.

    A good-faith question folks, let’s keep it civil.

    • Clean water is a necessity of life.

      • Thanks for the link, which states: “the fiduciary duty “does not exist at large.” Because not all obligations between the parties to a fiduciary relationship are necessarily of a fiduciary nature, the focus should be on “the particular obligation or interest [in] dispute and whether or not the Crown had assumed discretionary control … sufficient to ground a fiduciary obligation”

        If what you were saying were the case, then housing would be a duty too, and that very much is not the case: no court has ever ruled that the Crown must provide housing to reserves and the feds openly state that housing is not their duty.

        • That link is to a (seemingly comprehensive and unbiased) backgrounder covering decades of case law. There is no line declaring that the gov’t owes each reserve a $50 million water treatment plant. I assumed you weren’t *actually* asking for that exact guarantee, with dollar figures and all – I’m sure no one believes such a thing exists. But if you want to discuss the idea that the gov’t has something more than a political obligation to address living conditions on reserves, that backgrounder should help (It’s 10 years old, and there may be more recent relevant court cases or legislation).

          The section you quoted from isn’t about living conditions on reserves or federal funding – the case in question was a (sort of bizarre) land claim issue. I think the quote needs to be taken in that context. This analysis on the McCarthy Tétrault website also cites the case as setting important precedents for understanding the fiduciary duty; however, none clearly include or exclude water treatment or housing: http://mccarthy.ca/article_detail.aspx?id=129. I think the last line of the backgrounder says it best: “Supreme Court of Canada decisions confirm that the fiduciary relationship does have legal and constitutional scope. The concept itself and obligations arising from it are still being developed.”

    • What section of the Constitution, or case law, guarantees you or anyone clean water? Be *extremely* specific & provide link if possible.

  3. Rickford(?), the little man who appears on tv in place of the Minister, says this is a continuation of the governments results driven policies. And he said it with the best faux sincerety I’ve seen in a long time.

  4. Between 2006 and 2014, the Government will have invested
    approximately $3 billion in water and wastewater infrastructure and
    related public health activities to support First Nation communities in
    managing their water and wastewater systems, including $330.8 million
    from the 2012 Economic Action Plan . In addition to AANDC
    funding, First Nations invest in water and wastewater systems and
    activities through own source revenues and various other government
    sources at the local, provincial and federal level. The investments are
    steadily increasing the effectiveness of water services in First
    Nation communities.

    Assessments of First Nation water and wastewater infrastructure and
    capacity are also necessary to ensure that the proper infrastructure and
    systems are in place with performance that meets established standards.

    In 2009, the Government of Canada initiated the National Assessment of First Nation Water and Wastewater Systems
    with the inspection of 4,000 drinking water and wastewater systems.
    This exercise was the most rigorous and comprehensive independent
    assessment of its kind, surveying 97 per cent of drinking water and
    wastewater systems on First Nation lands. The result of this National
    Assessment, released in July 2011, provides an unprecedented reference
    tool that will inform future water initiatives while supporting future
    planning for water and wastewater systems in First Nation communities.

    • You are making this up, right? The CPC government has done nothing, nothing………I heard it today on P&P. The Liberal panelist Scott (?) said so himself.

      • Native school investment;

        In 2008, the Government of Canada started laying the foundation for
        structural reform in education. This involved the launch of two new
        programs– the First Nation Student Success Program and the Education
        Partnerships Program – building blocks that are helping to put in place
        the key school-based initiatives common to all high-performing schools.

        The First Nation Student Success Program
        supports educators on-reserve in their efforts to improve student
        results. To date, over 90 percent of students in band-operated schools
        across the country are benefiting from this program.

        This Government has made significant investments to
        ensure that children have better places to learn. Between April 2006 and
        April 2011, the Government has invested approximately $1.2 billion in
        school infrastructure projects. This includes the completion of 248
        school projects; ongoing construction of at least 20 schools in
        communities across the country; and, 64 minor repairs which include
        teacher housing, construction or design projects. This is in addition to
        investments made through Canada’s Economic Action Plan and the Gas Tax
        Fund.

        On June 21, 2011, the Government of Canada and the Assembly of First
        Nations jointly launched the work of the National Panel on First Nation
        Elementary and Secondary Education. The Panel has crisscrossed the
        country, consulting with First Nation communities, regional and national
        First Nations organizations, provincial governments and the private
        sector on how best to improve elementary and secondary education for
        First Nation boys and girls on-reserve.

        This important step builds on the Government of Canada’s
        commitment made in Budget 2010, to work with First Nations, along with
        other partners, to strengthen and improve First Nations education. The
        Government of Canada is looking forward to reviewing the upcoming report
        of the National Panel and to working with the Assembly of First Nations
        and other First Nation leaders on potential ways to further pursue
        education reforms.

        In 2009-10, 76% of First Nation bandoperated
        schools participated in the First Nation Student Success Program (with
        18 projects) In 2010-11, 16 more proposals received funding under the
        First Nation Student Success Program, bringing the number of
        band-operated schools participating in the program to 90%.

        In 2009-10, 3 tripartite agreements (covering 46%
        of eligible First Nation communities) were supported by the Education
        Partnerships Program. In 2011-12, 7 tripartite education agreements
        (covering 58% of eligible First Nation communities) were in place and
        supported by the Education Partnerships Program.

        • Sounds solid.

          Bruce Carson at the helm?

          • Well it’s all from a govt website, so…..

          • No it’s not, it’s from wiki.

          • Url please.

          • My post yes, have problems with factual information EieiO?????

          • Url please

          • Search it yourself or are you not capable?

          • I did….that’s how I know it’s a govt site.

          • Pickngrin, get your finger out of your nose……….and no.

          • Well, it was during this time period Carson thought he had an in on selling water filters to First Nations via the government. So who is going to be the lucky firm that Harper is going to award the contracts to?

          • The Indians decide on the contractor, the funding is approved or not through Indian Affairs.

          • Since when?

          • Since always.

            Some contractors are actually Indian too, who’d a thunk?

          • From Wiki:
            Carson was allegedly lobbying on behalf of H2O Pros, an Ottawa-based water company that had a financial connection to his fiancee. Carson is alleged to have been helping secure a contract involving the sale of water filtration systems to the Indian Affairs Department to First Nations in need of clean drinking water.[8] Carson was never registered as a lobbyist, and as a former political staff member, was prohibited from lobbying government agencies for five years after leaving office.[1] On March 25, 2011, head of H20 Global Group, Patrick Hill, denied that Carson had lobbied on his behalf.

            On February 6, 2009, during leave from his position as head of the Canada School of Energy and Environment, the Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Cassie Doyle received an email from Carson’s account, lobbying for a $25 million grant on behalf of the organization. Carson stated later that the email was drafted before he returned to the Prime Ministers office, and that it had been sent accidentally.[3]

            Carson was present at the signing of the contract, witnessing and initialing it. The contract guaranteed 20 percent of the gross profits go to Michele McPherson. McPherson is 22 years old,[3] his fiancee, and an alleged former escort. She is alleged to have acted as an intermediary.[4][4][8]

            Now Billy, stop worrying about my nose and get your fingers out of your ears

          • Nice try to make it look like Carson’s fiancee was to get 20% of $25 million, more than misleading;

            The report said that longtime Tory operative Bruce Carson was an
            official witness to a deal with an Ottawa firm, H2O Global Group, to
            provide 20 per cent of all revenues from the sale of water filtration
            systems to aboriginal reserves across Ontario to Michele McPherson.

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