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23rd July 2018
Study indicates widespread distrust of drinking water on First Nations reserves

By Anna Desmarais. Published on Jul 6, 2018 9:13am

A new survey shows widespread distrust of of drinking water in First Nations .

The study was commissioned for the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch of Health Canada and it interviewed 710 First Nations peoples and 721 residents from other small towns across the country (excluding B.C.) on various water and health questions to test the effectiveness of the federal government’s plan to increase water safety in small communities. Each survey is accurate up to + or -3.7 per cent 19 times out of 20.

Of the First Nations participants, only half rated their water quality as ‘good’, compared to 74 per cent of their non-Indigenous counterparts. The disparity exists on both sides of the spectrum too — with one in five First Nations interviewed rating their water quality as poor compared to one in eight non-First Nations people.

Just under half of the First Nations respondents said they had experienced a current or past drinking or boil water advisory over the course of their lifetime.

“Water treatment, monitoring and testing are ineffective if people do not believe that their water is safe to drink and are using alternative sources, such as bottled water, instead of that provided by the community,” the report concludes.

The study did find that First Nations peoples are more “positive” about overall water safety — more than 70 per cent of First Nations peoples surveyed believe their water is somewhat safe, compared to the 62 per cent interviewed in a 2007 study. This number is still much lower than the 93 per cent of the general public who believe their water is safe to drink.

Three quarters of the First Nations people on reserves interviewed said more information from the government about water testing, quality and procedures would make them feel safer. In particular, respondents asked for a telephone number or a website where they could check on their reserve’s water quality and see what could be done during a boil water advisory.

Currently, First Nations communities get most of their information from local councils, radio and the Internet.

In June, the federal government announced the end of four boil water advisories because of ongoing investments in water and wastewater infrastructure.

At the time, Indigenous services minister Jane Philpott reaffirmed the government’s commitment to end all drinking water advisories on reserve by March 2021 — a year later than the original deadline.

Even after a boil water or drinking water advisory is lifted, most First Nations respondents in Alberta and Saskatchewan said they are still reluctant to use tap water on their properties.

The 2018 budget provides an additional $172.6 million over three years to infrastructure projects to support high risk water systems repairs, recruitment, training and retention initiatives, and the creation of First Nation-led solutions.

The government has ended 66 boil water advisories since November 2015 but there are still 72 First Nations communities under long-term boil water advisories across the country.