GLOBE EDITORIAL: Providing safe drinking water on reserves is simple. Just do it (Globe and Mail – October 14, 2015)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Last January, there were 1,669 Canadian towns under drinking water advisories. By far the most common were advisories to boil tap water for a minute before consuming it.

Thankfully, these advisories are usually lifted quickly, because municipalities are governed by provincial regulations that define clear lines of responsibility and lay out rules on how to respond to problems. It’s rare for DWAs to last more than a few weeks.

On native reserves, however, they can go on for decades. It’s easy to see why.

Drinking water on reserves is a federal jurisdiction. Ottawa provides 80 per cent of the funding; the local councils build and maintain the systems and are responsible for training the operators and doing regular testing.

So far, so good. But a complex set of regulations from three federal departments (Aboriginal Affairs, Health Canada and Environment Canada), combined with ambiguous guidelines regarding responsibility and enforcement – not to mention the inevitable squabbles over sovereignty – means problems can persist for years.

As a result, in July there were 133 Health Canada drinking water advisories in 126 First Nations communities. Ninety-three of them have been in place for more than two years. One-quarter have been ongoing for more than 10 years. And in a few communities, native residents have been boiling water since the 1990s.

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