Tuesday, September 23, 2014
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Officials working on water plant on remote Cree First Nation

Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

Federal officials say they are close contact with York Factory First Nation, the remote Manitoba Cree community that lost its water supply a week ago.

The minister’s office in Ottawa said Aboriginal and Northern Affairs officials are focused on repairing the water treatment plant, which federal health officials closed down after diesel fuel smells were detected in the tap water.

The community of nearly 500 has been using bottled water for everything since the "Do not use the water" order was imposed Feb. 27.

"Officials are in contact, and working with the community to ensure they have access to a safe water supply and that service to the water treatment plant is restored as soon as possible," the press secretary for the federal minister said.

The federal minister Bernard Valcourt was in Winnipeg on Louis Riel day to announce $323.4 million over the next two years to upgrade substandard sewage and drinking water systems on Canada’s First Nations. Garden Hill First Nation, one of four Oji-Cree communities in the Island Lake Region of northern Manitoba, is expected to get plumbing for hundreds of homes out of the federal spending.

Ten days later the York Factory water plant broke down.

"Our Government is taking action to work with First Nations across Canada to ensure they have access to the same quality drinking water as all Canadians. That is why, since 2006, we have invested approximately $3 billion in First Nation water and wastewater infrastructure and related public health activities, and Budget 2014 commits $323.4 million over two years for the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan," the minister’s office said today.

Ottawa passed a Safe Drinking Water For First Nations Act to set standards for drinking water, and the funding this year is intended to finance the required upgrades.

The issue for remote regions like York Factory is that once equipment breaks down, it’s difficult to get the parts or the expertise to fix it.

Chief Louisa Constant said in a statement about the water crisis that she believed the source of the problem is with the water treatment plant itself. For over 20 years, water treatment in York Landing has run into repeated problems over a malfunction in the automated control panel at the plant. Band officials indicated the plant was never properly repaired after a power surge at the treatment plant from a lightning strike in 1990.

Constant said she’s called on both levels of government and Manitoba Hydro to collaborate with the First Nation on repairs to get the treatment plant operating properly.

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