Members of First Nations should expect, as do all Canadians, to have access to safe, clean drinking water. It is an important health and safety issue. Water and wastewater system standards and guidelines are necessary to protect the substantial investments made by the Government and First Nations in First Nation water and wastewater services.
AANDC has established three protocols which set out standards for design, construction, operation, maintenance, and monitoring of water and wastewater systems on reserve:
The Design Guidelines for First Nations Water Works were developed to serve as a general guide to engineers in the preparation of plans and specifications for public water supply systems on First Nations lands.
Health Canada's Procedure Manual for Safe Drinking Water in First Nations Communities South of 60° assists First Nations in the operational steps to meet the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality (GCDWQ) which set out the requirements for water safety.
These tools provide direction to First Nation Band Councils on water treatment, water management, responses to public health issues from potential waterborne illness and contamination, and the design of water and wastewater systems. To ensure that on-reserve residents enjoy comparable standards of health and safety to neighbouring off-reserve residents. AANDC's protocols indicate that if a local provincial standard or regulation is more stringent than the requirement of the protocols, that the more stringent provincial requirements must be met.
While the protocols and the procedures, entitled the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, outline requirements for operation of First Nations water and wastewater systems, these standards cannot be legally enforced. The provinces have regulations related to water but they do not apply on reserve land. As a result, there is a regulatory gap between communities on-reserve and those communities off-reserve. Federal legislation is required in order to create a legal basis for compliance and enforcement on-reserve.
Bill S-11, the proposed Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act was first introduced in the Senate in May 2010. The 40th Parliament was dissolved on March 26, 2011, when Bill S-11 was in Committee on Second Reading.
The proposed Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, Bill S-8 was again introduced in the Senate on February 29, 2012.
While the spirit of the new proposed legislation reflects the former Bill S-11, the Government has incorporated significant changes to the current bill based on feedback received from First Nations, Senators and Members of Parliament.
This enabling legislation is a vital step towards ensuring First Nations have the same health and safety protections for drinking water as other Canadians.
After due consideration, the Senate referred Bill S-8 to the House of Commons in June 2012 On November 1, 2012, second reading debates began on Bill S-8.
Subject to the proposed legislation receiving Royal Assessment, this bill will allow the Government to work with First Nations to develop enforceable federal regulations to ensure access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water; the effective treatment of wastewater; and the protection of sources of water on First Nation lands.
You can read Bill S-8, Drinking Water for First Nations Act , in its entirety on the Parliament of Canada's website and follow its status as it goes through the legislative process.
Learn more about the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act by consulting the following reference documents: