Lytton’s water operator Warren Brown Many First Nation communities across Canada have been under long-term boil water advisories. One community is trying some innovative solutions. Graduate students from the University of British Columbia report from Lytton, British Columbia. This project is in collaboration with the Global Reporting Centre.
Karen Dunstan lifts a large metal pot up to the sink and turns on the tap. The water is crisp, cold and clear, but it isn’t clean.
When the pot is nearly full, she puts it on the stove to boil. Only then can she and her children have a drink.
For more than 20 years, this was part of her morning routine.
"You would have flu-like symptoms and have diarrhoea and vomiting from drinking the water [without boiling]," says Dunstan, 53. Like many in her community, she lived under a boil water advisory for decades.
Dunstan lives in Lytton First Nation, a rural on-reserve Indigenous community of 945 people in British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province.
Lytton is just one among hundreds of First Nations that have suffered from a water crisis in Canada.
Despite the fact that Canada has the world’s third largest per-capita freshwater reserve, the water many Indigenous communities depend on is contaminated, difficult to access, or at risk due to faulty treatment systems. Water Advisories in Canada
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© OpenStreetMap contributors, © CARTO Source: Indigenous Services Canada and First Nations Health Authority. This data doesn’t include Saskatoon Tribal Council and north of 60th parallel
Nestled deep in the Fraser Canyon, the community of Lytton is centred around the confluence of two mighty waterways.
It’s here the dark blue-green waters of the Thompson River mix and quickly disappear into the muddy-brown water of the Fraser, British Columbia’s longest river.
A patchwork of 56 reserves spread over 14,161 acres, Lytton draws its water from these rivers and the creeks feeding into them.
But animal faeces and agricultural activity upstream release coliform bacteria such as E. Coli into the water, making it potentially unsafe to drink.
For years, residents resorted to buying bottled water or simply drank it untreated, which elders in the community link to a number of children’s deaths.
"If you go to some of our reserves you almost wonder like, wow, isn’t this the 21st Century? Why are they still living like that?" says Warren Brown, 45, the water operator at Lytton First Nation."It’s like a third-world country sometimes."A paramedic-turned-water operator, Brown is at the centre of Lytton’s struggle for clean water.He spends his days travelling across the reserve lands, inspecting and maintaining water treatment facilities. If an advisory needs to be issued, Brown is the one who makes the call. Warren Brown, the man responsible for Lytton’s clean water There are currently 75 long-term drinking water advisories affecting more than 50 Indigenous communities across the country, according to Indigenous Services Canada. A 2014 UN report described the water situation in First Nations reserves as "troubling," with more than half of the water systems posing medium or high health risk.Non-Indigenous communities in Canada have nowhere near this level of risk.Safe water supply off-reserves is the responsibility of the provincial governments.But First Nations and the reserves they live on fall under the jurisdiction of the federal government.This two-tiered governance structure means that, while most communities benefit from binding provincial water quality regulations, there are no such enforceable regulations on reserves. Water governance is for First Nations is the responsibility of the federal government In March 2016, the Trudeau government announced new commitments and funds to end all long-term water advisories by 2021.It’s not the first time the government has pledged money to address these […]
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