Two communities in the Lytton First Nation have lifted boil-water advisories that have been in place for a generation, according to the nation’s lead water operator.
Half a dozen of Lytton’s 56 reserves are too small to tap into federal infrastructure funds and have been boiling water in some cases, for more than 15 years and probably much longer
“They’ve been boiling their water since I got here,” said Warren Brown, who runs nine water treatment systems for the Lytton FN. “We can’t get a centralized water system for our smaller communities because they fall below the federal threshold.”
Communities with fewer than five homes do not qualify for federal funding for public drinking water systems, according to Indigenous Services Canada.
But thanks to an innovative water treatment system created by UBC engineering professor Madjid Mohseni, five families on two reserves are able to drink water from their tap, some for the first time in their lives.
“Chief Janet Webster is having trouble convincing her daughter to drink their tap water when she comes to visit,” said Brown. “She grew up never being able to drink the water and she’s in her twenties.”
The self-contained plants — each about the size of a two-door fridge — filter the water and destroy pathogens such as E. coli and fecal coliform with ultra violet radiation. Each home system costs about $7,000 to assemble and install.
“Within a couple of months the samples all came back negative for any bad stuff,” said Brown. “Once the First Nations Health Authority was convinced, they were taken off the boil-water list.”
There are currently 17 First Nations in B.C. under boil-water advisories, according to the health authority. At least ten of those water systems do not qualify for federal funds.
Three more are under do-not-consume advisories, meaning the water contains contaminants that are not destroyed by boiling.
Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott announced last month that more than 250 more Indigenous water systems would be eligible for federal support, as part of a $1.8-billion program announced in 2015 to eliminate boil-water advisories on First Nations by 2021. That brings the total of eligible systems to more than 1,000 across Canada.
To date, 52 long-term drinking water advisories have been lifted on First Nations across the country, while 28 new advisories have been added.
Another 36 short-term advisories were in place on First Nations as of December 31st, according to a report from the David Suzuki Foundation.
Funding to test the treatment systems came from Res’eau-WaterNet, a program that aims to provide safe water to small, rural and Indigenous communities.
UBC engineering professor Madjid Mohseni is developing low-cost water treatment systems.
“We hope to convince the government to give this technology a chance, to see what it costs, and to change their (funding) policy,” said Mohseni.
He is convinced the technology can also be applied to “thousands” more non-Indigenous rural homes in B.C., as well.
“The installation and operational costs may be lower than centralized systems in small communities,” he said.
B.C.’s health authorities currently list about 200 water advisories, which includes boil-water and do-not-consume notices.