Drinking water advisories

Let's make sure the federal government keeps its promise to end drinking water advisories in First Nations throughout Canada.

An act of reconciliation

Drinking water advisories have been a persistent injustice in First Nations throughout Canada. Currently, more than 100 communities go without clean drinking water. Many have faced these conditions for years, or even decades.

After years of pressure from Indigenous and social justice organizations, the federal government committed to ending all long‐term drinking water advisories by 2021. In response, the David Suzuki Foundation has begun monitoring progress on resolving First Nations drinking water advisories. Our first report released in February 2017 in partnership with the Council of Canadians concluded that although work to end DWAs had begun, the federal government was not on track to fulfil its commitment. Assessments from this year’s report are similar.

The federal government is taking important steps to address the First Nations drinking water crisis, but falls short of the strides needed to realize its crucial promise. Thousands of people in First Nations communities across Canada continue to live without access to clean drinking water. Some have gone without for decades.

Alaya Boisvert

Despite the problematic prognosis, innovative solutions are emerging from communities leading on ending drinking water advisories. Investments should be made to replicate and expand these successful community-based approaches. This will require the federal government to honour its commitment to relationship-building, trust and sharing decision-making authority.

What are we recommending?

  • Invest in and share successful models of First Nations-led approaches to resolving drinking water advisories, including developing and implementing source water protection plans  
  • Ensure expedited, but sound, processes to upgrade systems — including adequate and transparent funding for operations and maintenance 
  • Develop legislation and regulations impacting First Nations’ right to clean water with First Nations as equal partners 
Science and Learning Centre

Drinking water advisories in detail

01

91 advisories

As of January 2018, the federal government committed to ending 91 long-term drinking water advisories on public systems south of the 60th parallel.

02

8 out of 14

Despite a clear commitment from the minister of Indigenous services, the Foundation's report gives government a failing grade on eight of the 14 indicators developed to assess its progress.

03

$1.8 billion

The 2016 federal budget included $1.8 billion in new funding to help resolve the drinking water crisis. But a December 2017 Parliamentary Budget Officer report found these new investments into waste and water infrastructure represent just 70 per cent of what is needed to end all First Nations DWAs.

01 of 08
  • Chief Candice Paul, St. Mary’s First Nation

    Chief Candice Paul, St. Mary’s First Nation, co-chair of the Atlantic Policy Congress. (Photo: Atlantic Policy Congress)

  • Nickeyeah IR25 — Water Treatment Plant

    Nickeyeah IR25 — Water Treatment Plant Upgrade Post-commissioning Project Retrospective. “It is not from the benevolence of the individuals, or sectors that we don’t fall, but from their regards for their own fall. When the linkage breaks, we all fall.” (Photo: RES'EAU-WaterNET)

  • Harry O’Kees, Eabametoong First Nation Water Treatment Plant

    Harry O’Kees, assistant water treatment operator, Eabametoong First Nation Water Treatment Plant. (Photo: Rachel Plotkin)

  • Jim Brown, Lytton First Nation

    Jim Brown, Maintenance Manager at Lytton First Nation for 35 years. This innovative water treatment system ended Lytton First Nation’s Nickeyeah drinking water advisory. (Photo: Jim Brown)

  • Illustration of the importance of water to Yellow Quill First Nation

    The history and sacredness of Yellow Quill First Nation’s water is illustrated by artist Cheryl Buckmaster based on interviews with 22 Elders and community members. (Photo: University of Saskatchewan)

  • Cori Johnson, First Nation Health Authority

    First Nation Health Authority (FNHA) Environmental Health Technician Cori Johnson demonstrates water analysis using testing equipment that FNHA supplies to First Nations communities in BC, particularly in remote areas, for bacteriological testing. (Photo: First Nation Health Authority)

  • Neil Kane, First Nation Health Authority demonstration

    FNHA Environmental Health Technician Neil Kane demonstrating the importance of protecting drinking water from source to tap at Nicomen First Nation during an FNHA supported water awareness event. (Photo: First Nation Health Authority)

  • Nibi water gathering, Sagkeeng First Nation

    Witnesses walk toward ceremonial structures during Nibi water gathering at Turtle Lodge, Sagkeeng First Nation. (Photo: Alaya Boisvert)

Take action now

Everyone in Canada has a right to clean drinking water. Together we can ensure the federal government lives up to its promise to end long-term drinking water advisories in First Nations communities by 2021. We can show the provinces that they have an important role to play as well.

Send your message

The Grassy Narrows story

Water is sacred to Indigenous people. Yet rampant resource development and inadequate funding for water-treatment plants have led to decades of water issues in Indigenous communities throughout Canada.

Poisoned watersheds affect many First Nations. The most egregious example is Grassy Narrows, a First Nation where people have suffered from mercury poisoning and a collapse of livelihoods since the provincial government allowed a pulp and paper company to dump 10 tonnes of mercury into its watershed in the late 1960s. In December 2016, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne committed to remediate Grassy Narrows’ toxic watershed. The government must uphold this promise. The David Suzuki Foundation is committed to ensuring this cleanup happens.

In accordance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People and the Truth and Reconciliation Report calls to action, all people in Canada are obligated to protect Indigenous people’s right to water, and, where possible, prevent third parties, such as large development companies, from contaminating waterways.

Where contamination has already occurred, remediation efforts must ensue.