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On-Reserve Water and Wastewater Systems in Ontario: The Role of OFNTSC and Recommendations for Improvement

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Access to clean, healthy drinking water and sanitation services is integral for building healthy communities. Despite living with a country with some of the largest freshwater sources in the world, many First Nation communities in Canada continue to face challenges when it comes to accessing clean water and proper wastewater services, adequate infrastructure and quality training programs.

The Right to Water and Sanitation was adopted by the UN General Assembly on July 28, 2010, and in Canada the federal government has stated that “access to safe drinking water, the effective treatment of wastewater and the protection of sources of drinking water on First Nation lands are priorities for the Government of Canada.”1

Unfortunately, it remains true that First Nations have some of the poorest water quality in Ontario, and across the country.2 Long-term boil water advisories continue–in some communities, an entire generation has been unable to drink tap water3–and communities have declared states of emergency as recently as July 2019.4 Failing or absent water and wastewater systems also contribute to overall systemic challenges on reserve. For example, funding provided for programming will at times need to be diverted to water and wastewater systems,5 and in some cases much-needed additional housing units cannot be added due to limitations on water and wastewater infrastructure.6

There are several challenges associated with on-reserve water and wastewater systems which include a lack of infrastructure, limited funding, and human resources and skills training. While the situation has seen improvements, there is still much to do to improve water and wastewater systems on-reserve in Ontario.

The Ontario First Nations Technical Services Corporation (OFNTSC) plays a critical role in delivering water and wastewater engineering services to First Nations in Ontario. As First Nations continue to experience water quality issues it is essential that water and wastewater systems are delivered by and for First Nations consistent with a First Nations-led approach.

The following report will explore OFNTSC’s Water and Wastewater Services, and the issue of water and wastewater more broadly within Ontario. The report will include an overview and analysis of federal legislative framework, funding mechanisms, policies, and challenges for water and wastewater on reserve First Nations in Ontario. Finally, it will explore opportunities and recommendations on improving water and wastewater systems on reserve.

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