A Look into Canada’s First Nations Water Crisis

Despite possessing the world’s third largest freshwater reserves, the Canadian federal government does not supply safe drinking water to the 618 First Nations (FN) Communities in the country (Fraser Institute, 2018). DiGiovanni (2019) identified that 105 reserves in 2015 had an unsafe drinking water warning notices that had been in effect for longer than one year. In 2015, the Government promised to improve the drinking water conditions on reserves by 2021 and committed $1.8billion (CAD) increase to capital spending between 2016 and 2021 to improve water infrastructure on reserves (PBO, 2017, 19).

Whilst this sounds like good news,

Potlotek First Nation

the funding is only allocated through to 2021 to ‘fix’ existing systems, and the policy does not address the resilience of these drinking water systems or the maintenance capacity of communities to manage the upkeep. Most water treatment facilities require a high level of maintenance which many First Nation communities just cannot afford. So the policy and cash injection is not enough to effect real change for the long term benefit of the Communities.

First Nation Communities are often remote, often lack proper electrical grids, and are subject to extreme weather (Palmater, 2019). Decades of underfunding by the government on other public services like road and sewage lines and the proximity of many reservations to mining facilities put water systems at increased risk of contamination (Palmater 2019). Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) guides fail to acknowledge these harsh realities (ISC, 2010).

Clean water coming to Potlotek community

Nova Scotian First Nation Potlotek received news that they would benefit from a new water treatment plant in a project costing $6.16 million. With construction that began in October 2018 and is expected to be completed later this year (CBC News, 2018), the interim repairs alone are costing $842,000. The community of 750 people will continue to drink poor quality water until the new system is built. The new treatment system is designed to remove colour, metal and meet all the national standards for drinking water – but it seems that no thought has been given to what happens to the ongoing operational costs after funding ends. How will this community manage to maintain this expensive system without further financial assistance?

The old Potlotek water treatment plant came from Scotland and, when it broke, finding replacement parts was difficult (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

We’re here to help

The First Nation drinking water crisis is a symptom of investment without thought for sustainability. Clean Water Wave have the technological solution to help. We want to work alongside First Nation communities to build local capabilities around water treatment and set up infrastructure that does not rely on federal government funding for its ongoing operations. First Nation communities have long, respectful histories of ecosystem management and recognising the sacredness of our resources – especially water.  Clean Water Wave’s team shares this passion and is determined to improve the quality of our water and our environment in as low impact a way as possible. Working together, we know First Nation communities can get access to the clean safe water they have the right to without the worry of the system failing them.



Palmater, Pamela. 2019. “First Nations Water Crisis a Problem of Canada’s Own Making.” Policy Options. https://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/ february-2019/first-nations-water-problems-crisis-canadas-making/.

DiGiovanni, Jules. 2019. “Indigeneous Water Rights and Access in Canada.” https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/bf01d7d7977b4afdbf521a1237898f47.

Indigenous Services Canada. 2010. “Protocol for Safe Drinking Water in First Nations Communities.” https://www.aadnc-aandc.gc.ca/eng? 1100100034913/1100100034920#chp19.

Fraser Institute. 2018. “Canada is Richly Endowed with Freshwater Resources.” November 27, 2018. https://www.fraserinstitute.org/blogs/canada-is-richly-endowed-with-freshwater-resources.

CBC News October 2018: Construction begins on long-awaited Potlotek water system: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/potlotek-water-filtration-plant-construction-1.4845751