APTN National News
Ottawa needs to invest nearly $5 billion in First Nations water and sewage systems over the next 10 years, according to two year-long study released by Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan Thursday.
The government commissioned study, by firm Neegan Burnside, found that the federal government needed to immediately invest about $1.2 billion to raise reserve-based water and sewage systems to standards set by Aboriginal Affairs.
The study found 1,800 reserve homes have no water service and 1,777 homes have no sewage service at all.
Of those with water service, the study found that 39 per cent of 807 reserve systems inspected were classified as posing a “high risk,” meaning they posed a threat to health and safety. These high risk systems serve about 25 per cent of the on-reserve population, the study said.
“Once systems are classified under this category, regions and First Nations must take immediate corrective action to minimize or eliminate deficiencies,” the study said.
The study also found that of the 532 sewage systems inspected, 14 per cent were found to be seriously deficient.
The study concluded that the federal government needed to spend a total of $4.7 billion over the next decade to keep water and waste-water systems up to standard and meet the needs of growing First Nations population.
The dollar figures include costs for construction, training, studies and developing emergency plans.
A total of 571 First Nations were included in the study which began in September 2009.
Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan said the Conservative government would be introducing legislation creating water and sewage regulations for First Nations reserves.
“In the weeks ahead, officials from my department will be meeting with First Nation leaders and other stakeholders,” Duncan told reporters in Saskatoon. “(To go) over the results of the (study), finding ways to move forward together on both responding to the assessment and moving forward with legislation.”
Assembly of First Nations national Chief Shawn Atleo called the report’s findings “shocking” and said it was time for Ottawa to deal with the dire water situation facing First Nations.
“(The report) reveals the quality of drinking water in First Nation communities is even worse than anticipated,” said Atleo, in a statement. “More than half the water systems our people are using are risky systems.”
Duncan released the report in Saskatoon as the AFN was wrapping up its annual general assembly in Moncton.