Kehewin Cree Nation is celebrating the end of nine years under a boil water advisory and continuing to work towards a water source protection plan.
In a letter from Indigenous Services Canada dated Sept. 10, Senior Medical Officer of Health Dr. Wadieh Yacoub said, “the water is safe to use for all purposes including drinking, cooking, making infant formula or juice, brushing teeth, washing fruits and vegetables or making ice.”
The cancelation of the boil water advisory applies to all homes on the public water distribution line.
“It’s a big relief that we are at a stage where we can use the water without anything holding us back from using it,” said Chief Vernon Watchmaker.
The boil water advisory had been in place since 2011.
“There are younger generations that have lived their entire life under a boil water advisory, now they’re adults and they’re able to go without thinking if the water is safe or not. I think it’s a good day, and a good time for them to realize that they’re in a good state where they can feel safe to use the water now. It brings a lot of reassurance to the community,” said Watchmaker.
The previous water treatment plant was built in the 1970’s and had reached the end of its life.
Construction on a new plant began in 2018 with $13.9 million dollars from Indigenous Services Canada. Kehewin Cree Nation also replaced the water line to the core area of the community.
“It took a lot of meetings, a lot of work. Not just our council, but from previous councils and leadership over the years,” said Watchmaker.
In an e-mailed statement, Adrienne Vaupshas, press secretary for federal Minister of Indigenous Services Marc Miller said they are commited to getting clean and reliable drinking water to First Nations communities.
“We are committed to ensuring that all First Nations communities have access to safe, clean and reliable drinking water. As part of this commitment, we continue to work in partnership with First Nations communities by supporting them to build, repair and enhance water and wastewater infrastructure that will ensure clean drinking water is accessible to all,” she said.
“Chief Watchmaker and Kehewin Cree Nation’s achievement is cause for celebration, as we work together to create positive change for the health and safety of all community members.”
According to Watchmaker, between one third and one half of the community members are tied into the new water line while the other half are still on cisterns. He said they are currently working on an assessment of the cisterns to replace, repair, and clean them as needed.
“Because if you have the water treatment plant water going into a cistern that hasn’t been cleaned or is still contaminated you wouldn’t be able to solve the problem, so that’s why we needed to do the assessment,” said Watchmaker.
Once that work is completed, he said, the water be will just as good as the water from the main line.
However, the timeline for finishing the work on cisterns isn’t set in stone.
“Like anything we have to identify the funding. When we find that commitment of funding we’ll have a more firm timeline of when that will take place,” said Watchmaker.
Also in the works right now is a water source protection plan for Kehewin Lake.
According to Watchmaker, the band council is in negotiations with the provincial government to take over the management of the Kehewin Campground, which was included on a list of parks the province planned to give up managing earlier this year.
“If we’re able to manage the campground, we have a hands-on ability to manage that water and make sure that water source is protected for the Kehewin Cree Nation,” said Watchmaker, noting the lake is the primary water source for the Nation.
“We have to put those [protections] in place so we’re not only looking after the infrastructure, but we also have to look after our water source where we pull our water from to make sure we have good quality water,” said Watchmaker.