In a news release, members of the Atlantic Policy Congress of First Nations Chiefs Secretariat, including Chief Wilbert Marshall of Potlotek First Nation, said that despite a decade of working on the issue, the federal government has not fixed the problem.
“Our community has been working with Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) over the past decade to address the serious issues, to no avail,” wrote Marshall. “In spite of promises for action, here we are a decade later and no action. What must happen to address this water crisis here in our community?”
The latest results of water testing are showing manganese and iron concentration in the drinking water in exceedance of aesthetic objectives set out in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
Last year, the community experienced the same issue, with water being brown and dis-coloured and emitting a foul odour.
This week, the community has been advised by Health Canada not to drink the water, bathe in it or wash clothes in it.
Cape Breton-Canso MP Rodger Cuzner said the recent contamination in Potlotek has taken the federal government by surprise.
“Things were moving along pretty well, there wasn’t any indication that there were any problems or that these problems were going to arise again,” said Cuzner, who was waiting to hear back from Marshall on Thursday afternoon.
“I have a call into him (Marshall) now, and I know he’s busy. We have our chief engineer on the ground from INAC once the problem was determined the emergency response team was on the ground right away.
On Thursday, the community of Potlotek and government organizations were finalizing the process of providing the community with stations to shower, wash their clothes and dishes.
The band council of Potlotek and Health Canada have also been providing the community with bottled water.
Cuzner said the problem with the water system in Potlotek is that the pipes and infrastructure are old and past their life expectancy and the community has already invested in solving that short term problem until a new water treatment facility can be built.
“They made upgrades in the old system to get them through until they can fix the issue properly, which is what we’re working for,” said Cuzner “It was just shy of $700,000 in cleaning the pipes and flushing the delivery system for sediment, manganese and iron and filters have also been installed that have yet to be commissioned.”
An immediate solution is being provided involving lime bricks that will help deal with the contamination and discolouration of the water.
“We anticipate lime bricks will be in tomorrow or the next day and that should have the old system functioning properly — which it’s not right now,” said Cuzner.
Despite Cuzner’s assurances that the government is working on steps to fix the problem, there is still doubt among the Indigenous community that the government is doing all they can to fix the problem.
“We have provided multiple briefings in recent years to several members of the federal government, both elected and non-elected, and we are committed to working towards a solution, but to date, there is no assurance from government,” wrote John Paul, executive director of the Atlantic Policy Congress, in the news release. “Perhaps safe water continues to be not a priority for the government of Canada and Prime Minister Trudeau.”
Health Canada has said the manganese and iron in the water appear because of temperature changes and turnover in the lake water which the community gets its water source. As of now, there is no time indicated for the water to return to normal.
Health Canada has said there are no known health impacts linked to the levels of iron and manganese in Potlotek, but it said boiling water would only further concentrate the minerals.