Fact Sheet - Risk Assessment of Water and Wastewater Systems in First Nations Communities

Why Risk is Assessed

Risk assessments are performed on water and wastewater systems in First Nation communities to help ensure that the systems operate effectively and that health and safety guidelines are met.

Inspections of water systems have been required annually since the Department’s Protocol for Centralised Drinking Water Systems in First Nations Communities was introduced in 2006. Risk assessments, conducted according to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada’s Risk Evaluation Guidelines, are part of these inspections.

What is Assessed

Risk assessments look at how specific elements of the system perform as well as how the system performs overall. The five specific elements of a water or wastewater systems which are assessed include:

1. Water Source (for water systems)

  • What is the source of drinking water? Is it protected and is a sufficient quantity available?
  • effluent receiver (for wastewater systems)
    Does the wastewater system have the ability to treat wastewater effluent to acceptable levels for discharge into the environment?

2. System Design

  • Does the design of the system meet current applicable standards and is it capable of treating the water/wastewater to the required levels?

3. System Operation and Maintenance

  • Are appropriate operations and maintenance procedures in place and are they being properly implemented?

4. operator training and certification

  • Is the system operator properly trained and certified?

5. record keeping and reporting

  • Are the appropriate records and reports being completed to document if the water is safe and that proper procedures are being followed?

How Risk is Determined

Each element of a system is assigned a low, medium or high risk ranking based on a scale between one and 10. It is important to note that these risk numbers are only a measure of the overall system management risk and not a measure of water safety or quality. It is the risk that, in the event of a problem, a system would fail to produce safe water.

The risk categories are:

  • Low risk (1.0 to 4.0): These are systems that operate with minor deficiencies. Low-risk systems usually meet the water quality parameters that are specified by the appropriate guidelines (such as the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality).

  • Medium Risk (4.1 to 7.0): These systems have deficiencies that, individually or combined, pose a medium risk to the quality of water and human health. These systems do not generally require immediate action, but the deficiencies should be corrected to avoid future problems.

  • High Risk (7.1 – 10.0): These are systems with major deficiencies that may, individually or combined, pose a high risk to the quality of water. While these deficiencies may lead to potential health and safety or environmental concerns, in many cases, systems identified as high risk are providing safe water to communities. The systems may be considered high risk for several reasons, ranging from insufficient record keeping to not having an operator with the proper certification.

According to the Department’s guidelines, deficiencies in high risk systems could result in advisories against drinking the water (such as boil water advisories) or inadequate water supplies. Once systems are classified under this category, regions and First Nations then take immediate corrective action to minimize or eliminate deficiencies.

The overall risk for an entire system is also ranked using the same categories and scale. However, an overall system rank is not an average of the scores from the five categories. Instead, the overall system rank is calculated using a weighted value for each category as follows:

  • water source and the wastewater effluent receiver (10 per cent)
  • system’s design (30 per cent)
  • operation and maintenance (30 per cent)
  • the level of training and certification of its operator (20 per cent)
  • reporting and record keeping (10 per cent)

For example:

Region First Nation Source Design Operations Report Operators Final score
Saskatchewan Region Meadow Lake No. 105 1.0 8.0 3.0 1.0 1.0 3.7
Quebec Region Reserve de Wolinak No. 11 1.0 4.0 6.0 10.0 1.0 5.7

While the average for Meadow Lake would be 2.8, the final score is 3.7 because design risk is given a higher weight. Similarly, while the average for Reserve de Wolinak would be 4.6, the final risk score is 5.7 because of the higher weights for design, and operation and maintenance, and the lower weight for report and record keeping.

Responding to the Risk Ratings

Results of the National Assessment demonstrate that a range of actions are required to address current and future water and wastewater systems needs in First Nation communities. While funding for capital projects may seem like the most obvious solution, design risks only account for 30 per cent of the risk identified. Operation and maintenance (O&M), operator qualification, and record keeping account for 60 per cent of the risk measured. This highlights that although design and construction are an important cost, once a system is built, ensuring that it continues to produce safe water for a community is dependent on the people operating the system.

The Department has developed response plan to address issues identified in the National Assessment. The plan will focus on three key areas:

  • Improving technologies and partnerships to ensure the best use of investments in infrastructure;
  • Enhanced capacity building and training; and
  • Enforceable standards and protocols.

The commitments made in the response plan build on important existing programs and initiatives to support First Nation communities ensure their residents are provided with the same quality of safe, reliable, and healthy drinking water as other Canadians.

Already this year, investments in 15 water systems the National Assessment identified as having a high design risk and a high overall risk rating are underway or planned. An additional 57 are planned over the following four years. By 2015-16, there are plans to invest in almost 25 per cent of the water systems the National Assessment identifies as high overall risk.

Between 2006-07 and 2012-13, the Government of Canada will have spent more than $2.5 billion to support First Nation communities improve water and wastewater systems.

Date: July 14, 2011