Access to safe drinking water on First Nations land
Ensuring First Nation communities have access to safe and effective water and wastewater systems on First Nation lands is a priority for the Government of Canada.
The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act (the act) was passed in June 2013 and came into force on November 1, 2013. Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC), with the support of Health Canada, is currently engaging with First Nations on the act and on identifying priorities going forward regarding safe drinking water and wastewater treatment on First Nation lands. Feedback from these sessions will help determine long-term actions to ensure safe drinking water for residents of First Nations communities.
As it stands now, the act allows the Government of Canada, in collaboration with First Nations, to develop federal regulations to ensure:
access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water
effective treatment of wastewater
protection of sources of drinking water on First Nation lands
Why are water regulations on First Nations land important?
All Canadians should have access to safe, clean, and reliable drinking water. While provinces and territories have their own legally binding safe drinking water standards, First Nations communities do not have comparable legally enforceable protections. The Government of Canada has a Protocol for Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Communities, which sets out clear standards for the design, operation and maintenance of drinking water systems; as well as other protocols and guidelines to support First Nations in providing community water and wastewater services comparable to the levels of service that would generally be available in off-reserve communities of similar size and circumstances.
Essential regulatory components of the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act
The Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act—as it currently exists—focuses on 11 essential regulatory components:
Protecting sources of drinking water
Drinking-water sources need to be protected from contamination to maintain human health. Prohibit the discharge of certain contaminants (e.g. manure, solid wastes, wastewater, etc.) within a certain distance of the water source.
Location, design, construction, modification, maintenance, operation, and decommissioning of drinking water and wastewater systems
System location, design, construction, and modifications done according to applicable standards.
System design and modification approved by a licensed professional engineer, excluding wells and septic systems.
Drinking water or wastewater system, site/system specific requirements and/or permits to operate required as appropriate, for all new systems or any modification to an existing system.
Individuals constructing, repairing, or modifying a septic system or well must be licensed and/or hold a certificate of qualification issued by the province/territory of application.
Declaration/notification to the appropriate authority of system modification and well abandonment.
Distribution of drinking water and collection of wastewater by truck
Bulk water delivery containers and cisterns designed and constructed to applicable standards.
Collection of wastewater by truck by a licensed professional.
Hauled sewage discharged in keeping with applicable standards.
Training and certification of operators
Operator certification process.
Operator responsible for a system to be certified at a level equal to or greater than the requirements of that class of system.