Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Report - April 2010 - March 2012

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Catalog: R1-49/2012E-PDF
ISSN: 1929-9176

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada, represented by the Minister of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development, 2012

This Publication is also available in French (pdf) under the title: Rapport sur l'eau et les eaux usées, avril 2010 - mars 2012.

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Table of Contents


The Government of Canada is committed to helping First Nations in the provision of safe, clean, and reliable drinking water and the sustainable management of wastewater for their communities. To support this goal, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) provides funding and advice to First Nations to assist in the design, construction, operation and maintenance of water and wastewater systems.

In 2006, the Government of Canada introduced a comprehensive strategy to mitigate the risks related to water quality in First Nations communities. Working with First Nations, three priority areas for action have been identified:

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

This report is a follow up to AANDC's Water and Wastewater Infrastructure Investment Report: April 2006 – March 2010, which detailed investments and highlighted progress made between April 1, 2006, and March 31, 2010. This update outlines activities undertaken between April 1, 2010, and March 31, 2012, in each of the three priority areas. It reviews the initiatives that the department supported to strengthen capacity and enhance standards and protocols. In addition, it summarizes AANDC capital investments for water and wastewater infrastructure, including funding for the operation and maintenance of systems. Lastly, it highlights the outcomes of recent inspections of water and wastewater systems, and charts the path forward for AANDC's support to First Nations.


On reserve lands, First Nations are owners of their water and wastewater systems and are responsible for their daily operation and management. AANDC provides funding and advice to assist in the design, construction, operation and maintenance of these facilities. The department also provides funding for the training and certification of system operators, Circuit Rider Trainers to support operators, and capacity building activities for communities to manage systems effectively.

Departmental funding is allocated through annual investments under the department's Capital Facilities and Maintenance Program (CFMP), as well as targeted funding through Canada's Economic Action Plan (CEAP  and the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan (FNWWAP). FNWWAP, introduced in 2008, is a joint AANDC-Health Canada initiative that supports First Nations communities in bringing their drinking water and wastewater services to a level comparable to those enjoyed by other Canadians living in communities of similar size and location. In May 2010, the Government of Canada announced that FNWWAP was extended for two more years, and it was recently renewed for an additional two years in Budget 2012.

Between 2006 and 2014, the Government of Canada will have invested approximately $3 billion in water and wastewater in First Nations communities. In addition to AANDC funding, First Nations invest in water and wastewater systems and activities through own source revenues and various other government sources at the local, provincial and federal level.

Since the publication of the last report, AANDC completed the National Assessment of First Nations Waster and Wastewater Systems (National Assessment) in July 2011, a comprehensive assessment of the state of water and wastewater systems on reserve. In response to the findings of the assessment, the Government of Canada worked with First Nations to identify concrete actions in the areas of capacity building and training, enforceable standards and protocols, and infrastructure investments. In 2011-12, AANDC completed annual inspections through the department's Annual Performance Inspections (API) process, which assessed federally funded water and wastewater systems in order to determine their risk levels and progress since the National Assessment. See Annex C for the results of the 2011-2012 performance inspections.

2010-2012 Highlights

Enhanced Capacity Building and Training

Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada provides funding to First Nations to help communities build the capacity to manage and maintain facilities.

Capacity funding is primarily provided through the Circuit Rider Training Program (CRTP). The CRTP coordinates qualified experts to rotate through a circuit of First Nations communities, providing First Nations operators with ongoing, on-site training and mentoring on how to operate and maintain their drinking water and wastewater systems. The program is offered to all First Nation communities across Canada through a variety of partners and service providers, including private companies, tribal councils, and First Nation technical organizations.

Mack Seymour, a Waterkeeper from the Chemainius First Nation, shares his perspective on a new video-based training tool:

"As far as my experience, the video is a good Waterkeeper's tool because it explains. If any of the community wants to know how the water system runs, where it comes from, how it's filtered out, everything it does--it's a good tool for people out in the community to have a brief understanding of how their water system works."

Circuit Rider Trainers provide additional support via 24-hour hotlines, which operators can rely on for advice during normal operations and any emergencies that may arise.

The CRTP initiative also supports the development of training programs, templates, guides, and tools to assist First Nations with the operation and maintenance of their facilities. Each year, AANDC provides approximately $10 million for Circuit Rider Trainers to ensure CRTP services are available to all First Nations communities.

Highlights of 2010-2012

  • New Circuit Rider Trainer Program guidelines were developed to help standardize the program and to support operators in improving the management of operation and maintenance (O&M) of their systems.
  • The 2009-11 National Assessment concluded that 51 per cent of water systems and 42 per cent of wastewater systems were managed by operators certified to the level of the system that they operated. By 2011-12, API results indicated that 60.1 per cent of water treatment systems and 53.9 per cent of wastewater systems were managed by operators certified to the level of the system.
  • As part of continuing efforts to improve maintenance on water and wastewater systems, AANDC regional offices shared a tool with First Nations to help them develop Maintenance Management Plans (MMPs). As of 2011-12, inspections showed that 51 per cent of water systems and 34 per cent of wastewater systems had MMPs, up from 28 per cent and 23 per cent, respectively, from the National Assessment.

Enforceable Standards and Protocols

The department has established a suite of water and wastewater protocols to help ensure that on-reserve residents enjoy standards of health and safety comparable to neighboring off-reserve residents. They set out standards for design, construction, operation, maintenance, and monitoring of water and wastewater systems on reserve:

While these three protocols outline requirements for the operation of First Nations water and wastewater systems, they currently cannot be legally enforced. As a result, there is a regulatory gap between communities on reserve and those off reserve, where provincial or territorial regulations apply. AANDC has been working on legislation that will allow the Government to develop, in partnership with First Nations, enforceable federal regulations to ensure access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water, the effective treatment of wastewater, and the protection of water sources on First Nation lands.

Circuit Rider
Circuit Rider & Water Treatment Plant Operators performing routine maintenance

AANDC undertook initiatives across the country to support training for First Nation individuals to operate water and wastewater systems in their communities:

  • In British Columbia, AANDC worked with Thomson Rivers University to develop a First Nations-oriented four-year university program for training operators. The first 14 students graduated in 2010.
  • In Quebec, AANDC partnered with tribal councils to develop a First Nations-oriented training program leading toward operator certification and on-the-job training to keep certification up-to-date. A training plan for all communities is also prepared yearly to meet the needs identified by certified trainers.
  • In Manitoba and other regions, the department funds training to help operators obtain high-school equivalency, which operators need in most regions in order to become certified.

Highlights of 2010-2012

John Duncan at the water treatment plant
John Duncan, Minister of AANDC, announced the Updated Legislation to Protect Drinking Water in First Nation Communities with Treaty 7 Grand Chief Charles Weaselhead, Treaty 6 Grand Chief Cameron Alexis, and Treaty 8 Grand Chief Richard Kappo.
  • Bill S-11, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act, was introduced in the House of Commons in May of 2010. The legislation would enable the Government of Canada to work with First Nations to develop enforceable federal regulations for water and wastewater on reserve. Bill S-11 died on the Order Paper in the Senate Committee when the 40th Parliament dissolved in March 2011.
  • The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act was reintroduced in the Senate as Bill S-8     on February 29, 2012. While the spirit of the bill remains the same as Bill S-11, changes and improvements to clarify its intent and scope were incorporated based on feedback received from First Nations, Senators, and Members of Parliament. Subject to the proposed legislation receiving Royal Assent, Bill S-8 represents a vital step towards ensuring First Nations have the same health and safety protections for drinking water as other Canadians.

Infrastructure Investments: Improving Technologies and Partnerships

Between April 1, 2010, and March 31, 2012, AANDC invested $678 million in the construction, operation, maintenance and monitoring of water systems and wastewater systems on reserve.

Capital Investments 

From 2010 to 2012, First Nations received $424.6 million in capital funding from AANDC for all water and wastewater projects. Projects funded included the construction of new treatment facilities, the construction of water and wastewater storage facilities, the expansion of existing systems, and the servicing of lots for new home construction. See Annex A for a list of water and wastewater projects over $1.5 million completed from 2010-11 to 2011-12.

Operations and Maintenance Investments

AANDC also provided First Nations with $253.4 million in ongoing O&M funding for systems built with departmental funds. Funding for operations is allocated for activities to help run the systems, such as the purchase of chemicals to treat water. Funding for maintenance is provided for activities that ensure that the system continues to run safely and in optimal condition throughout the lifespan of the asset. As owners of their facilities, First Nations are responsible for operation and maintenance and are expected to contribute to the associated costs; AANDC funds 80 per cent of O&M expenses for water and wastewater facilities and First Nations are expected to provide the remaining 20 per cent.

Water treatment plant
Above: John Duncan, right, Minister of AANDC, speaks with Kahnawake Grand Chief Michael Delisle, left, and Frank Deere, Project Manager at the new Kahnawake Water Filtration Plant.

Community Success Story:
Kahnawake First Nation Water Treatment Facility and Reservoir

Kahnawake First Nation is located southwest of Montréal, with 7600 on-reserve members. A rapidly expanding community, the First Nation's existing water treatment system had been pushed to full capacity to meet the needs of the growing population.

Thanks to a $11.4 million investment from AANDC, Kahnawake opened their new drinking water treatment system and reservoir in 2012. The First Nation was responsible for managing this large-scale project, which will accommodate future growth, improve water quality, and create new jobs for community members.


Improving Water and Wastewater Services – Island Lake Communities

In Manitoba, AANDC is working with the Island Lake communities of Garden Hill, St. Theresa Point, Wasagamack and Red Sucker Lake to improve the provision of safe drinking water and sewer services to unserviced houses. In November 2011, the department committed $5.5 million to support the initiative, identifying priorities in collaboration with the First Nations.

In 2011, equipment and materials were purchased and delivered over winter roads for the retrofitting of 100 houses, as well as the construction of garages to house six water and seven sewage trucks. The garages are scheduled to be completed by October 2012 and the houses by March 2013.


AANDC is committed to developing partnerships to support communities in bringing their drinking water and wastewater services to a level enjoyed by comparable off-reserve communities.

In Ontario, AANDC partners with Health Canada and the Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation to hold bi-annual Water Symposiums, which bring together First Nation leaders, administrators, policy makers, water plant operators, and federal and provincial government officials.  The most recent symposium was held on March 20-21, 2012, in Niagara Falls. The objective was to discuss innovative water treatment technologies, proposed drinking water legislation and regulations, source water protection, and emergency preparedness. In order to improve the ability of municipal governments and adjacent First Nations to form partnerships that lead to improved water and wastewater infrastructure and related services, AANDC provides funding to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to Administer the First Nations Municipal Community Infrastructure Partnership Program (CIPP). CIPP encourages mutually beneficial community infrastructure service agreements through forming partnerships, sharing knowledge and expertise, and pooling assets.  In 2011-12, the program has also developed a Service Agreement Best Practice Toolkit including a series of First Nations-Municipal Service Agreement templates.

On March 6-7, 2012, the Assembly of First Nations organized a National Indigenous Water Conference that attracted a national audience of First Nation leadership, technicians, and government staff. The conference focused on issues, policies and program activities related to water and wastewater in First Nations communities. It consisted of a plenary session, technical presentations and a trade show. AANDC financially supported the technical elements of the conference (presentations and trade show).

 Highlights of 2010-2012:

  • Over 2010-2012, AANDC provided $678 million to First Nations and First Nation organizations for the construction, operation and maintenance of water and wastewater systems on reserve – $424.7 million in capital funding and $253.3 million in O&M funding.
    • In 2010-11, AANDC invested $250.5 million in capital and $126.1 million in O&M for a total of $376.6 million for water and wastewater infrastructure.
    • In 2011-12, AANDC invested $174.2 million in capital and $127.2 million in O&M for a total of $301.4 million for water and wastewater infrastructure.
  • Over 2010-2012, 47 major water and wastewater infrastructure projects were completed in First Nations communities for a total of $294 million. This total includes AANDC's share as well as other sources of funding.
  • Work to address 47 water systems identified as high risk in the National Assessment commenced in 2011. Approximately 24,000 individuals living in First Nation communities will benefit from these investments.
The Lac La Ronge Regional Water System Water Treatment Plant
Above: The Lac La Ronge Regional Water System Water Treatment Plant

Community Success Story: Lac La Ronge Regional Water Treatment Plant

The Lac La Ronge Indian Band, located in north-central Saskatchewan, shares water treatment and distribution systems with the Town of La Ronge and the Village of Air Ronge.

To respond to new water quality standards and address community growth, AANDC partnered with Infrastructure Canada and local partners to fund a $12 million expansion and upgrade project.

A total of 1290 water and wastewater systems were funded by AANDC in 2011-2012. A breakdown by region and by water and wastewater system is outlined in the chart below.

Number of Wasterwater and Wastewater Systems Funded by AANDC for 2011-2012 

The chart below provides total funding by region over the 2010-2012, differentiated by capital and O&M funding. See Annex B for a breakdown of AANDC funding by First Nation and region.

Regional Distribution of Water and Wastewater Funding 

NOTE: $1,034,262 was allocated from headquarters to the following two recipients: the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) and the Circuit Rider Trainer Professional Association (CRTPA). These projects are not identified in the table above.


Inspections and Outcomes

Inspections and risk assessments are tools that First Nations can use to inform immediate and long-term planning for water and wastewater in their communities, including decisions on how their systems are maintained and operated, how the life of their systems can be prolonged, and how system risks can be reduced. They also provide a means for AANDC to assess the outcomes of water and wastewater investments and activities on reserve, enabling key priorities to be identified and resources to be targeted more effectively.

AANDC's water and wastewater protocols require that an annual inspection be completed to verify the performance of any centralised water or wastewater system that is funded in whole or in part by AANDC and serves five or more household service connections (or that serves a public facility). Risk assessments, conducted according to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada's Risk Evaluation Guidelines, are a component of these inspections.

What do risk ratings mean?

A low risk system indicates that there are few or no deficiencies found when a system is inspected.

Medium risk systems have minor deficiencies in several areas or major deficiencies in one or two areas.

High risk systems have several deficiencies in several key areas of assessment.

AANDC measures risk more comprehensively than any other jurisdiction in Canada, taking into account an extensive set of factors that could lead to problems with water and wastewater systems. It is important to note that a risk rating is a measure of overall system management risk (also known as "calculated" risk), not of water or wastewater safety or quality.

Overall system risk 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)

The type of risk assessment applied is not designed to assess the risk associated with a Municipal Type Service Agreement system, nor to assess the risk associated with residents relying on individual water (e.g. wells) or wastewater (e.g. septic) services.

As part of the First Nations Water and Wastewater Action Plan (FNWWAP), the Government announced, in 2008, a plan to conduct a detailed national assessment of existing public and private water and wastewater facilities operated by First Nation communities across the country.

Whitecap Dakota First Nation Chief Darcy
From left: Whitecap Dakota First Nation Chief Darcy Bear, Minister Duncan and Water Treatment Plant Operator Debbie Roper tour the Whitecap First Nation Water Treatment Plant in Saskatchewan.

On July 14, 2011, Minster Duncan released the results of the National Assessment of Water and Wastewater Systems in First Nation Communities, the most rigorous, comprehensive and independent evaluation of water and wastewater systems on reserve ever undertaken by a federal government.

The National Assessment surveyed the water and wastewater systems of 97 per cent of First Nation communities in Canada. This provided AANDC and First Nations with a comprehensive and detailed account of water and wastewater systems on reserves.

The contract for the independent assessment was awarded to Neegan Burnside Limited in May 2009. AANDC invested $9.3 million for the assessment which involved the review of 4,000 systems including 1,300 communal water and wastewater systems, and 800 wells and 1,900 septic fields in 571 First Nation communities across the country.

In 2011, AANDC conducted an Annual Performance Inspections (API). APIs, as required under AANDC's protocols for federally funded water and wastewater systems, April 2011 and March 2012. These inspections were conducted by AANDC inspectors or contractors certified to the level of the system being inspected (Circuit Rider, licensed consulting engineer, licensed Tribal Council engineer, provincial water system inspector, or water system operator).

The inspectors used the same risk evaluation tool as the National Assessment. However, a number of water and wastewater systems that were inspected during the National Assessment site visits were not inspected during the 2011-2012 APIs. These include:

  • systems that are not directly funded by AANDC;
  • systems owned by self-governing and modern treaty First Nations;
  • private systems; and
  • some small septic systems.

Where no inspection was completed, the National Assessment results for the system were carried forward. (See Annex C where systems not inspected in the 2011-2012 API are identified with an asterisk).  The following table indicates risk ratings for the 1290 systems inspected in the 2011-12 API cycle that were also inspected in the National Assessment.

Risk Level
2009-10 National Assessment
Water Systems
Wastewater Systems (519)
High 268 69
Medium 257 251
Low 194 162
NA1 52 37

Risk Level
2011-12 Annual Performance Inspections2
Water Systems
Wastewater Systems (519)
High 206 58
Medium 268 210
Low 266 234
NA1  31 17

1 Systems not inspected in either the National Assessment or the 2011-12 Annual Performance Inspection.
2 API results as of June 6, 2012.

The results of the 2011-12 API cycle show that the number of water systems rated as high risk has decreased by 8.1 per cent and the number of wastewater systems rated as high risk has decreased by 2.1 per cent, since the 2009-2010 National Assessment risk assessments were conducted.

The overall change in risk ratings by system was as follows:



Water Risk Changes from National Assessment to 2011-12 API

  • 268 High Risk: 103 systems became medium risk, 37 systems became low risk, and 128 systems stayed the same.
  • 257 Medium Risk: 85 systems became low risk, 54 systems became high risk; 118 systems stayed the same.
  • 194 Low Risk: 38 became medium risk; 13 systems became high risk; 139 systems stayed the same. (4 of the 194 low risk systems were not assessed in the NA.)
  • 52 systems included in the 2011-12 API were not assessed in the National Assessment.

Wastewater Risk Changes from National Assessment to 2011-12 API 

  • 69 High Risk: 24 systems became medium risk, 13 systems became low risk, and 32 systems stayed the same.
  • 251 Medium Risk: 72 systems became low risk, 19 systems became high risk; 159 systems stayed the same. (1 of the 251 medium risk systems was not assessed in the NA.)
  • 162 Low Risk: 21 became medium risk; 6 systems became high risk; 134 systems stayed the same. (1 of the 162 low risk systems was not assessed in the NA.)
  • 37 systems included in the 2011-12 API were not assessed in the National Assessment.

The National Assessment demonstrated that operation and maintenance, operator qualification, and record keeping account for 60 per cent of system risk. These factors were the primary drivers of the changes in risk ratings described above. Where they were successfully decreased, overall system risk levels went down. Where these risk factors increased, system risk levels rose. This is why the department is working to reduce highest risk ratings through strategic investments, focusing on improving operation & maintenance and operator training.

Annex C provides a comparison of risk ratings from the National Assessment and the 2011-12 Annual Performance Inspections broken down by system.


Looking Forward

Looking ahead, the federal government will continue to work with First Nations, the provinces and territories, and other stakeholders to build on progress achieved over the last two years. Over 2012-13 and 2013-14, the Government of Canada has allocated $749.4 million to fund on-reserve water/wastewater infrastructure and complementary activities—$684.3 million through AANDC and an additional $65.1 million through Health Canada. This includes a Budget 2012 commitment of $330.8 million in targeted funding.Between 2006 and 2014, the Government of Canada will have invested approximately $3 billion in water and wastewater in First Nations communities.

AANDC will continue to take action to reduce system risk levels through three identified priorities:

Enhanced capacity building and training

Supporting Better Planning

As part of the work to support First Nations in increasing capacity to operate water and wastewater systems, AANDC has been developing templates to assist in developing Maintenance Management Plans (MMP), Emergency Response Plans (ERP), and Water Protection Plans (WPP).  These tools will be finalized in 2012-2013 and Circuit Rider Trainers will assist operators in using the templates to create and implement system-specific plans.

Trained and certified operators are key to reducing risk and helping to ensure safe drinking water in First Nation communities. In particular, the implementation of the new Circuit Rider Training Program guidelines will strengthen First Nations capacity by providing increased training and mentoring services to operators of water and wastewater systems. Other examples of planned activities include the development of regional hubs to monitor and potentially operate systems remotely, the development of centres of expertise to make available back-up operator capacity in communities, and the distribution of templates for maintenance management, and emergency response plans to operators. All of these activities target improvements in the management and effectiveness of on-reserve water and wastewater systems, a reduction in the number and duration of drinking water advisories, decreased risk scores, and longer lifespan for water and wastewater infrastructure.

Enforceable standards and protocols

Bill S-8, the proposed Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act was introduced in Parliament on February 29, 2012, to enable the development, with First Nations, of legally enforceable regulations for water and wastewater on reserve. Upon Royal Assent, AANDC will begin formal discussions on regulatory development with First Nation organizations.

AANDC will support First Nations in complying with Environment Canada's Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations, once enacted. Revisions will also be made to align departmental wastewater protocols with the new regulations.

Infrastructure investments - improving technologies and partnerships

Initiative to Improve Drinking Water Quality

In July 2011, the Governments of Canada and Ontario announced the Canada–Ontario First Nations Initiative to Improve Drinking Water Quality, a new joint three-year initiative harnessing innovative and alternative drinking water systems to improve water quality in Ontario First Nation communities. The Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation is also supporting this initiative by providing technical support to First Nations and Tribal Councils.

Four First Nation communities will participate in the pilot, which will explore:

  • selecting appropriate design and technology solutions for water systems through a collaborative process with representatives from the First Nations, Ministry of Environment of Ontario and AANDC;
  • implementing drinking-water solutions; and
  • operating, maintaining and monitoring the systems.

AANDC will provide up to $5 million in funding to cover the full costs of capital infrastructure and, in addition, at least three years of operations and maintenance funding for the projects.

In addition to the construction of several new water and wastewater systems across the country in First Nation communities, significant investments are proposed for system expansions, repairs and enhancements to bring systems up to standard.

Planned projects for 2012-2013 include 286 capital projects to design, build, renovate, or expand water and wastewater systems. Of these planned projects, 103 projects are expected to be completed by March 2014.

Looking forward, AANDC will continue to work in partnership with First Nations to support concrete actions to improve on-reserve water and wastewater systems and outcomes.

Annex A: Water and Wastewater Projects Over $1.5 Million Completed (2010-11 to 2011-12)

Annex B: AANDC Funding to First Nations for Water & Wastewater (2010-11 to 2011-12)

Annex C: Results from the 2009-10 National Assessment and the 2011-12 Annual Performance Inspections by System