Federal government takes responsibility for more on-reserve boil water advisories

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Federal government takes responsibility for more on-reserve boil water advisories

As part of its goal to end long-term boil water advisories for First Nations reserves, the federal government has added almost 250 more drinking water systems to its list of those eligible for public monies, meaning it will have to address many more advisories than it originally intended.

The Government is ready to provide support if any additional drinking water advisories become long term or are at risk of becoming long term, on the more than 1,000 public drinking water systems on reserve covered by its commitment.

Philpott said it can take two to three years to get everything in place to end a community's drinking water advisory, which are often in remote locations and some only accessible at certain times of the year.

Philpott's briefing documents show the hard job ahead for her new department, with life expectancy for Indigenous people 15 years shorter than other Canadians, infant mortality rates two to three times higher and incidence of diseases such as diabetes four times the rate in non-Indigenous populations.

According to a government backgrounder, communities can issue advisories if there are water line breaks, equipment failure or poor water filtration, but also if there is no one trained to run the water system or to test the water quality.

"First Nation communities working in partnership with the federal government have started or completed nearly 350 projects to improve water and wastewater infrastructure on reserve".

These systems are ones that are considered "public" - in that they operate at fire halls, community or healing centres and other such buildings on reserve - but weren't previously see as the domain of the federal government. Although, 42 advisories on the list did not yet have finalized completion dates; theirs were set for March 2021. "Looking forward to 2021, some projects are still in the design phase or do not yet have a full construction schedule", the document says.

In the past federal election campaign, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to end all such advisories by March 2021 to finally deliver clean drinking water for all First Nations peoples.

The government forecasts the number of long-term boil water advisories will fall to zero by 2021.

Last month, before the new advisories were added to the list, Canada's budget watchdog published a report that found the government was spending only 70 per cent of what it would cost to eliminate boil-water advisories on reserves.

Budget 2016 provided investments of $1.8 billion over five years to significantly improve on-reserve water and wastewater infrastructure, ensure proper facility operation, maintenance, and support training of water system operations.

At the time, Philpott said the government was "absolutely steadfast" in its commitment to reach that target.

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