Update on the Government of Canada’s Commitment to Clean Drinking Water on Public Systems on Reserve


Everyone in Canada deserves access to safe, clean, and reliable drinking water. The Government of Canada has committed to ending all long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserve by March 2021.

The Government remains on track to meet its commitment.

The Government of Canada has also pledged to improve water and wastewater infrastructure on reserve, and address the problems that lead to long-term drinking water advisories on public drinking water systems. Budget 2016 included investments of $1.8 billion over five years to:

  • improve infrastructure;
  • support proper facility operation and maintenance; and
  • support training of water system operators;

Budget 2016 also included $141.7 million over five years in new funding to improve drinking water monitoring and testing on reserve.

Short-Term vs Long-Term Advisories

Drinking water advisories (DWAs) are put in place for many reasons. A community may issue a DWA if there are problems with the water system, such as:

  • water line breaks
  • equipment failure
  • poor filtration/disinfection when water is treated

A community may also issue a DWA when it does not have:

  • someone trained to run the water system
  • someone trained to test and ensure the quality of the drinking water

Some advisories are short term. They warn residents of a short-term water quality issue on a certain water system. Short-term drinking water advisories: First Nations south of 60

Long-term DWAs are those that have been in place for more than 1 year. The Government of Canada remains on track to end long-term drinking water advisories in First Nation communities by March 2021. Ending long-term drinking water advisories in First Nation communities

Increased Number of Systems included in Government’s commitment

Across Canada, there are more than 1,500 water systems on reserve. The Government provides independent public health advice, guidance, recommendations and drinking water monitoring and testing to all of these systems regardless of who funds the infrastructure. Close to 500 of these systems serve commercial interests or are private systems. Individual owners and operators are responsible for private and commercial systems or those run by other stakeholders.

The Department of Indigenous Services Canada (DISC) financially supports around 800 systems, and also provides guidance and advice on the design, development, maintenance and operation of water and wastewater infrastructure.

On January 23, 2018, it was announced that DISC will be adding close to 250 drinking water systems to the total number of systems covered by the federal government’s commitment to end long-term drinking water advisories. This brings the total number of systems covered by this commitment to over 1,000.

DISC will provide financial support should a long-term drinking water advisory occur on any of these additional public systems. As of January 23, 2018, 24 of these additional systems have long-term advisories, and so the Government is now working to end 91 long-term drinking water advisories on reserves by March 2021.

Funding for lasting change

Committing investments over five years allows for the long-term planning that is essential to meaningful change.

  • Close to 350 water and wastewater projects have been initiated using Budget 2016 targeted funds. Many of these projects address or prevent long-term drinking water advisories and make a real difference to more than 270,000 people in 275 First Nation communities.
  • Forty long-term drinking water advisories were lifted from public drinking water systems since November 2015. Twenty-six other drinking water advisories became long-term after reaching the one-year mark.
  • Fifty seven projects have been completed so far and it’s projected that over the coming year more than 20 of the 91 current long-term advisories will be resolved.

From December 2020 to March 2021

Looking forward to 2021, some projects are still in the design phase or do not yet have a full construction schedule. As the completion date for these projects is confirmed, the graph showing forecasted lifting dates for current long-term advisories will be adjusted. This graph currently includes 42 advisories for which the precise completion dates are not yet finalized. In these instances, March 2021 is the placeholder for any final completion date until any earlier completion date is confirmed.

Additional 24 long-term drinking water advisories being addressed as part of the Government’s commitment

Tracking our progress

There will be challenges along the way. The number of DWAs in First Nation communities across Canada fluctuates as water quality is not static. Some DWAs last only a short time and advise residents of a temporary issue that could affect the safety of the drinking water supply from a specific water system. In other circumstances, an advisory may be in place for an extended period of time.

Many projects require a multi-year timeline to complete and may be complicated due to remoteness, poor state of existing infrastructure, or shorter shipping and construction periods throughout the year. For some communities, Budget 2016 was the first time infrastructure investments on reserve were made available over a 5-year period, allowing for long-term planning and substantial upgrades.

First Nations communities and the Government are working towards long-term solutions. The government is increasing funds for training to help build capacity and supportproper facility operation and maintenance now and into the future.

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