MARY ELLEN MacINTYRE
Cape Breton Bureau
Aging system led to overheated pump, band says
It was a miserable few days without water for residents of the Potlotek First Nation in Richmond County.
“In the middle of the winter, with a bad flu going around and people having to melt snow in their bathtubs in order to flush their toilets — it’s not right,” said Lindsay Marshall, chief administrative officer for the band, which was formerly known as Chapel Island.
Water service was restored to the community Thursday after close to 700 residents went without for two days.
“We lost three pumps on this antiquated system — everything gets corroded over time and the pump got overheated,” Marshall explained.
He sighed with frustration during a telephone interview Thursday.
“Yesterday we had an electrician, plumbers, a water treatment specialist, and we did find a solution because we found a pump and we moved it to the distribution area and it worked,” said Marshall.
“It’s just one pump and we have to shut it down every few hours in order for it to not overheat and right now it’s filling the (water) tower up.”
Marshall, who was at one time chief of this community, said residents must continue to boil the water until further notice.
He admits there have been problems with the system in the past and expects there will be again.
“The real fix is to get modern equipment because the old technology we have is not good enough anymore and when it breaks down, it gets expensive to fix, with plumbers and electricians and we have to shut down the public buildings like schools and the health centre,” he said.
“One of the quotes we sent to (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada) was over $700,000 to have the water tower redone. It’s all so expensive.”
To make matters worse, the level of funding to the growing community has not increased in years, Marshall added.
“I’m disgusted with all of this because the federal obligation is not being met here and in many First Nations communities,” he said.
“We’ve been getting the same level of funding since I was chief in 1996 and the dollars didn’t grow. The level of funding doesn’t match the need.
“When you have a community that doesn’t have the infrastructure needed to sustain positive growth, then you’ve got trouble.”
Marshall said no one deserves to come up against the kinds of problems experienced in poorer native communities, like aging water systems.
“We don’t want to be dependent on the federal government and if they recognized our treaty rights to all those resources, we’d be a lot better off,” he said.
Marshall said the federal government only pays lip service to treaty rights.
“Lip service is not good enough. It’s never been good enough.”
A spokeswoman for Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada said Ottawa will invest a further $323.4 million over the next two years to extend the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan.
“Our government is committed to working with First Nations to support strong and healthy communities,” Erica Meekes said in an email. “We will continue to ensure that First Nations have the same access to safe, clean drinking water in their communities as all other Canadians.”