Backgrounder - Canada's Economic Action Plan 2012: Investing in First Nations On-Reserve Water and Wastewater

Through Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2012, the Government of Canada is improving the health and quality of life of people in First Nation communities by assisting First Nations to provide better water and wastewater services to their residents. The two lead federal departments are Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) and Health Canada.

This $330.8 million investment over two years will be targeted to reduce risk levels and deliver results for water and wastewater systems on-reserve that improve access to safe clean water. These goals will be accomplished by increasing investments to support the training of operators and the operations and maintenance of facilities. Operation and maintenance (O&M), operator training and certification, and record keeping and reporting alone account for nearly 60 per cent of the risk identified in Annual Performance Inspections of water and wastewater systems. In addition, investments for water and wastewater treatment facility construction and renovation will be prioritized to address high and medium risk systems.

Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2012 funding will support important public health activities on reserves. These activities include environmental public health assessments that provide services such as site and installation inspections, providing recommendations related to on-site sewage disposal systems and reviewing plans for wastewater treatment plants, and enhancement of the drinking water quality monitoring program from a public health perspective.

Health Canada will continue to provide recommendations on drinking water quality in First Nation communities to Chiefs and Councils. Chiefs and Councils will continue to be responsible for public health measures, such as issuing drinking water advisories in the affected communities, communicating the information to residents and addressing drinking water quality problem.

The Government of Canada responded to the release of the 2009-2011 National Assessment report with a commitment that on-reserve water and wastewater issues would be addressed on a priority basis, identifying three key areas for action:

  • enhanced capacity building and operator training;
  • enforceable standards and protocols; and
  • infrastructure investments.

The Economic Action Plan 2012 investments will support improvements in each of these areas by:

  • increasing funding for operator training and operations and maintenance;
  • supporting the creation of regional hubs to monitor and, where feasible, operate systems remotely;
  • developing new circuit rider training guidelines;
  • supporting First Nations in development of regional hubs of expertise; and
  • prioritizing capital investments to target highest risk systems.

Year one of this funding will be allocated by AANDC in 2012-2013 in three areas of planned expenditures: $47.7 million for operations and maintenance, $32.1 million for training for First Nations and $47.3 million for capital investments.

Health Canada will support First Nations by investing $27.4 million each year to build capacity, enhance drinking water quality monitoring, maintain a national wastewater program, increase public awareness and review project proposals from a public health perspective.

The Economic Action Plan 2012 investment builds on the approximately $197.5 million the Harper Government invests annually for water and wastewater programs in First Nation communities.

Progress Since the 2009-2011 National Assessment of First Nations Water and Wastewater Systems

As mentioned above, the Government of Canada responded to the release of the 2009-2011 National Assessment report with a commitment that on-reserve water and wastewater issues would be addressed on a priority basis. The following three key areas were identified for action: infrastructure investments; enhanced capacity building and operator training; and, enforceable standards and protocols.

Since then, the Government of Canada has continued to meet its commitment and has made progress in each of these areas:

  • increased the percentage of systems with operators certified to the level of the system from 51 per cent to 60 per cent for water systems and from 42 per cent to 54 per cent for wastewater systems;
  • introduced the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act after extensive outreach and consultation, which, if passed, will ensure that First Nations have the same health and safety protection for drinking water in their communities as other Canadians;
  • strengthened the annual inspection process to improve consistency across the country and to ensure First Nations and AANDC have accurate information to support sound decision-making regarding water and wastewater system investments;
  • confirmed planning for 286 infrastructure projects in 2012-2013, supported by the Economic Action Plan 2012 funding and other departmental resources;
  • enhanced access to water monitoring programs. All First Nation communities now have access to trained personnel to monitor drinking water quality;
  • increased the number of public water systems that meet the recommended weekly monitoring for bacteriological parameters by more than 60 per cent since 2006;
  • increased the number of public water systems that meet the recommended annual monitoring for chemical parameters by over 25 per cent since 2006;