Oneida Nation of the Thames gets $43M from Ottawa for clean drinking water

Oneida Nation of the Thames, a First Nation just south of London, Ont., that has been on a boil-water advisory since 2019, has secured $43 million in federal funding to bring treated drinking water to the community. 

The connection to the Lake Huron Primary Water System will supply potable water to more than 500 homes and public buildings to the community, which is home to nearly 2,200 residents.

A boil-water advisory has been in effect on Oneida since September 2019 and became long term in September 2020. Problems with low water quality and limited water pressure forced the community to declare a state of emergency in December. 

Chief Todd Cornelius said he’s elated at the news, which comes after months of the lobbying of Indigenous Services Canada. 

“Water is life,” said Cornelius. “It’s been a long road, and while we have been resilient, we know that clean water is vital to the overall health of our community. I look forward to the day when our community can drink water by simply turning on their tap. It’s time to get to work on making this a reality. I want to thank the people of Oneida and the administration who have endured this process and worked to finalize this agreement.”   

‘Powerful response’ to water funding

Brandon Doxtator, Oneida’s environmental co-ordinator, said members of the community were told the news at a meeting on Wednesday. 

“It was such a powerful response,” he said to CBC News. “People were clapping, they were excited. We’re eager to see this next phase.” 

Doxtator said the water problems have been a source of daily frustration. 

“Water is a sacred force and being within the Great Lakes, which is one-fifth of all the fresh water in the world, and having a water quality and quantity issue just doesn’t make sense to me.”   

The water infrastructure project is expected to be completed in 18 to 24 months. Doxtator said with the money in place, the next step is to hire a team of engineers to oversee the project and create detailed designs for the pipeline

Doxtator said the money will cover the cost of bringing the water into Oneida and upgrading the distribution system to 12-inch diameter lines, from four- or six-inch lines. 

However, the money won’t cover the cost of adding fire hydrants and other fire protection infrastructure inside Oneida. That’s been an issue in the community, particularly after a tragic house fire in 2016 killed five members of one family. Doxtator said fire protection will be added as the community grows.

In January, CBC News reported that Oneida had struck a supply agreement with the Lake Huron water system to have an 18-kilometre pipe built to carry water to their community, to a connection point at Springwell Road and Falconbridge Drive near Mount Brydges, Ont.

The proposed water pipe extension would bring treated Lake Huron water to Oneida Nation of the Thames from a connection point near Mt. Brydges.
The water pipe extension will bring treated Lake Huron water to Oneida Nation of the Thames from a connection point near Mt. Brydges, Ont. (News Graphics/Frederic Demers)

The Lake Huron Primary Water Supply System supplies treated Lake Huron water to 15 municipalities across an area the size of Prince Edward Island. Parts of London, along with Middlesex Centre, Strathroy-Caradoc, Lucan-Biddulph, Grand Bend and others, are supplied by the system.

Boil-water advisories are a way of life for First Nations communities in many parts of Canada. 

Brandon Doxtator, a councillor with Oneida of the Thames, said a conserve water advisory has been issued for the community of just over 2,000 people. 'If we continued at the rate we were going, we would have run out of water completely,' he said.
Brandon Doxtator, a councillor with Oneida of the Thames, said bringing treated drinking water into homes in Onedia will take about two years. (Andrew Lupton/CBC News)

In the 2015 federal election campaign, Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau committed to eliminate all long-term drinking-water advisories for public water systems on First Nations reserves by 2021. That goal by the prime minister has fallen short.

Source link