First Nations on back-end of water list hope Liberal promises don't run dry

First Nations on back-end of water list hope Liberal promises don't run dry
From CBC - January 23, 2018

A little more than a week before Robert Nault was replaced as Indian Affairs minister by the Paul Martin Liberal government, his office faxed a letter to Grassy Narrows informing the band he "anticipated" the department would soon fund a project to provide water systems to two well-drawing areas of the community.

The letter, provided to CBC News,arrived at the Ontario First Nation's band office on Dec. 2, 2003.Nine days later Nault was out as minister and the project never happened.

Grassy Narrows, which sits about 88 km north of Kenora, Ont., is now facing a watered-down version of the same promise: aninterim fix to provide drinkablewater to homes in the community currently hooked up to well systems with uranium-tainted water.

This time the promise is coming from a renamed and restructured department with an expected delivery date of March 2021, one of 36 projects on the back-end of the federal Liberal government's promise to end all long-term boil water advisories in First Nations within five years, according to figures released by Indigenous Services Minister Jane Philpott.

The Grassy Narrows leadership is unhappy with the government's self-imposed deadline, saying it's too far into the future.

"That's not good enough," said Grassy Narrows deputy Chief Rudy Turtle.

"We are not happy with the announcement."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised during the 2015 federal election campaign to end existing First Nation long-term boil water advisories within half a decade. While the Liberals took power in the fall of 2015, the government started the five-year clock at the beginning of the 2016 fiscal year.

On Tuesday, Philpott released a list with all the water projectsin First Nations facing long-term boil water advisories currently inthe works and their expected completion dates.Philpottalso announced that the department's overall commitmentnow includes more than 1,000 systems not previously viewed as the responsibility of the department.

Grassy Narrows has four projects on the list, including a temporary fix to their main water system which is failing to adequately treat drinking water, and an interim fix for three sections of the community drawing from uranium-tainted wells.

Robert Williamson, band project manager for Grassy Narrows, said a feasibility study is underway on the main water system project and the department's announced March 2019 completion date is likely accurate.

However, Williamson said the only thing stopping the department from fixing the water problems with the Snake Point, Mission and Teacharage well systems is the cumbersome funding process. Williamson said the band needs about $350,000 to install tanks and sign a contract with a supplier to allow homes in those areas to switch over to trucked water.

"We could get it done by September," said Williamson.

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