Steps to lifting a long-term drinking water advisory
Lifting a long-term drinking water advisory in a First Nation community includes several key steps.
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Identify the problem
A drinking water advisory is put in place to protect communities from potentially unsafe drinking water. In First Nations, the chief and council have the authority to issue or lift a drinking water advisory and take necessary actions to resolve it, with Indigenous Services Canada’s (ISC) support. Short-term advisories automatically become long-term after 1 year in effect. Since 2015, 175 short-term water advisories have been prevented from becoming long-term.
When a system is under a drinking water advisory, ISC and other partners support the First Nations community in determining what work is needed to find the most appropriate solution and resolve the advisory. Measures could include:
- repair or replace infrastructure
- provide additional training
- assist with water monitoring or any other potential risk
If the advisory is due to a problem with the existing infrastructure, such as distribution line breaks, equipment failure, or poor filtration or disinfection during water treatment, an assessment is completed to determine the root cause of the advisory. This may involve a feasibility study conducted by a consulting engineer hired by the First Nation, with the support of ISC.
During the feasibility study, options to improve drinking water for the community are analyzed. The First Nation, working with ISC, decides how it would like to proceed. Each community is unique and requires its own solution.
Usually, there are 2 ways to proceed:
- upgrade or repair an existing water treatment plant or related infrastructure
- build a new water treatment plant
The decision on whether to repair or replace infrastructure is made based on:
- age and state of the existing infrastructure
- extent of the upgrades and repairs required
- a life-cycle cost analysis that takes into account the cost to build and operate the infrastructure
If the advisory is the result of challenges in ensuring continuous safe operation, maintenance or oversight of the system, ISC provides support directly or funds First Nations organizations, such as tribal councils, to support the community in providing further training or assistance with water monitoring.
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Repair or replace infrastructure
ISC allocates funding to support the agreed-upon solution. The First Nation, as the owner and operator of the system, hires and contracts specialists as required, conducts tendering and hires contractors. First Nations are supported by protocols and guidelines developed by ISC, and ISC may provide technical advice on request.
The next steps of the project may include:
- designing the infrastructure
- hiring a project manager
- planning and tendering construction
- logistics planning
- identifying deadlines
- monitoring construction
ISC is available to support the First Nation if the need arises.
Confirm system is producing clean water
After the improvements have been made, the environmental public health officer works with the community-based water team, which may include the system's operator and public works manager, to confirm through testing that the problems have been corrected and the water is now safe to drink and use.
The environmental public health officer recommends to chief and council that the long-term drinking water advisory be lifted.
Lift the advisory
Based on the recommendation above, the chief and council, or chosen delegate, will announce the lift of the advisory once comfortable with the corrective measures.
Challenges and long-term supports
ISC continues to work with the community after the long-term advisory is lifted to provide support to address issues that would put access to clean water at risk.
ISC also supports the community in implementing best practices such as:
- regular training
- developing operations and maintenance protocols
- recording lessons learned
This can help prevent future long-term drinking water advisories and improve the process for lifting advisories.