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11th December 2016
Access to safe and reliable drinking water is essential to individual and population health. The Drinking Water Safety Program (DWSP) supports access to safe drinking water by working in partnership with First Nations communities.

Chief and Council are responsible for planning and development of capital facilities, which provide basic infrastructure needs such as drinking water. Community leadership is also responsible for day-to-day operation of water and wastewater systems, which includes sampling and testing of drinking water.

As part of the DWSP team, FNHA Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) can:

• Conduct drinking water system inspections and test drinking water for bacteriological, chemical, physical and radiological parameters to meet Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality

• Interpret drinking water quality results

• Provide guidance and recommendations to communities about drinking water safety issues, such as boil water advisories (BWAs) including do not consume (DNC) and do not use (DNU) advisories

• Provide training for community-based water monitors (CBWMs) to collect and send water samples for testing; and, where available, analyze samples using in-community testing equipment

• Review plans for new or upgraded community water systems

• Provide information and support on safe drinking water practices and risk prevention to Chief and Council and community members

• Investigate waterborne illnesses.

Community-based Drinking Water Quality Monitoring Program

Community-based water monitors (CBWMs) support local capacity to monitor water quality and to increase awareness and ownership of water systems. Water monitors play a key role as those responsible for sampling, testing, recording and communicating the microbiological quality of treated water in communities. Water monitors are also responsible for developing and implementing a drinking water quality awareness program.

The water monitor may be a community health representative (CHR), water treatment plant operator (WTPO), or another individual selected by Chief and Council. If a community does not have a water monitor, their work may be done by an environmental health officer (EHO) or an FNHA environmental health technician.

EHOs train water monitors to sample and test the drinking water for potential bacteriological contamination using community lab equipment (Colilert®). ​WaterTrax®, an internet-based data management system, is used to manage all drinking water quality data to which the CBWM, Band Administration, and the Drinking Water Safety Program (DWSP) team have access. Community-based drinking water programs have been established for all interested communities.

Drinking Water Advisories

Drinking water advisories are preventive measures that protect people from drinking water that could be contaminated. In First Nation communities, a drinking water advisory can affect as little as one building - it does not always represent a community-wide drinking water problem.

Drinking water advisories can be required due to problems in the water system, such as line breaks, equipment failure and poor filtration or disinfection during water treatment. An advisory might also be needed as a precautionary measure – for example, during emergency repairs to the water distribution system or if a community lacks the required staff to support operation.

FNHA's Environmental Public Health Services (EPHS) provides advice to communities on drinking water safety, including recommendations on when a drinking water advisory is warranted. It is the responsibility of Chief and Council to implement an advisory and take the necessary measures to rectify the problems which led to the advisory.

Some problems can be fixed with routine maintenance procedures. Other issues, such as infrastructure improvements, can require initiating an infrastructure investment project to funding agencies such as​ Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada. Once remedial measures are completed, EPHS supports communities by verifying that the drinking water is once again safe and is protected from potential future problems.

Types of Drinking Water Advisories include:

Boil Water Advisory (BWA): Issued as a preventive measure when the water in a community's water system is known or suspected to have disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites that can cause waterborne illness; or when water quality is questionable and boiling will remove the contaminant from the water.

Do Not Consume (DNC): Issued when a community's water system contains a contaminant, such as a chemical, that cannot be removed from the water by boiling. The water should not be used for: drinking; brushing teeth; cooking; washing fruits and vegetables; making infant formula or other drinks, soups or ice cubes; for bathing infants and toddlers; or for pets. It may continue to be used for domestic purposes such as showering and bathing.

Do Not Use (DNU): Issued when the water system contains contamination that cannot be removed by boiling and consumption of the water poses a health risk; exposure to the water when bathing could cause skin, eye or nose irritation.

As of November 30, 2016, there were 21 Boil Water Advisories and 4 Do Not Consume advisories for a total of 25 Drinking Water Advisories in effect in 22 First Nation communities in British Columbia. This includes water systems with 5 or more connections and smaller water systems that have public facilities.​

During 2015, 10 long-term (lasting longer than a year) boil water advisories and one long-term do not consume (DNC) advisory were lifted.​

Information on drinking water advisories in community water systems is updated on the website on a monthly basis. First Nations community members can obtain the most up-to-date information on their drinking water through their Chief and Council.