March 27, 2006

New plan promises First Nations access to resources for clean water delivery

A new plan of action to address drinking water concerns in First Nation communities commits the federal government to ensuring that First Nation leaders have access to the tools and resources they need to deliver clean water to their residents. It will also require all parties with responsibilities in this area to take decisive action and achieve measurable results, noted Indian Affairs and Northern Development Minister Jim Prentice.

The action plan is based on implementation of the Protocol for Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Communities. This protocol contains standards for design, construction, operation, maintenance, and monitoring of drinking water systems in First Nation communities and is intended for use by First Nations staff responsible for water systems. It is also intended for use by federal government staff and all others involved in providing advice or assistance to First Nations in the design, construction, operation, maintenance, and monitoring of their drinking water systems.

The Protocol places effective safeguards in place at each stage of a drinking water system. The requirements cover: protection of source water; water treatment, with requirements tailored to each specific system; distribution systems; monitoring, maintained through continuing testing of water quality and system performance; system design (e.g., building codes) for treatment plants, distribution systems, and trucked water systems; quality assurance, including annual third-party inspections; operator certification to the level set by provincial requirements for the classification of the system they operate; and public reporting of monitoring results.

To ensure these standards are followed, this protocol will be included as part of funding agreements between the federal government and First Nations. The government will also provide professional and technical advice to help First Nations design, build, operate, and maintain their water systems.

Other components of the action plan include:

*mandatory training for all treatment plant operators and a regime to ensure that all water systems have the oversight of certified operators. Various initiatives such as remote monitoring of water systems and the contracting of independent certified operators to provide necessary oversight will be put in place.

*complete specific remedial plans for First Nation communities with serious water issues, starting with the 21 communities most at risk.

*a panel of experts to advise on the appropriate regulatory framework, including new legislation, to be developed with all partners. Final recommendations for a new framework are to be delivered by September 2006.

*a clear commitment to report on progress on a regular basis.

Assembly of First Nations (AFN) national chief Phil Fontaine called the plan "an encouraging first step in our larger efforts to close the gap in the quality of life between First Nations and non- Aboriginal Canadians. This approach," he said, "shows we can work together to find solutions that take people out of risk while at the same time working on a national strategy to ensure everyone has access to safe drinking water."

Federal Health Minister Tony Clement pledged his department's support for the initiative. "Health Canada will support this plan by enhancing a monitoring system that serves as an early warning for potential risks to public health, and by providing additional support to identified communities most at risk," he said,

More information about the plan and the communities affected is available on the Indian and Northern Affairs Web site, www.ainc-inac.gc.ca.

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