Over $15 million is making its way to northwestern Ontario to help provide clean drinking water to eight communities in the area.
Kenora-Rainy River MPP Greg Rickford announced the $15.5 million in joint provincial and federal Green Stream funding on April 14, saying the funds will head to Kenora, Rainy River, Wabigoon Lake Ojibway Nation, Emo, Fort Frances, Chapple, Machin and the Ojibways of the Onigaming.
“The majority of these projects are in support of rehabilitating aging water mains and water infrastructure in these communities,” explained Rickford. “These projects will support safe and clean drinking water for members of these communities in Kenora-Rainy River.”
Rickford, who also serves as the Minister of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry as well as the Minister of Indigenous Affairs, says planned projects include replacing watermains and hydrants, new pipes, below ground enhancements, a repair of roads and sidewalks and improvements to water treatment facilities.
The joint investment aims to invest in 144 water infrastructure projects across Ontario with $140 million from the province and $190 million from the federal government, as well as nearly $110 million from the communities that will be receiving additional funding.
The federal government says over the last six years, they’ve invested $4.4 billion in community drinking water and wastewater infrastructure projects across Canada.
Still, First Nation communities across Canada continue to face lengthy long-term boil water advisories. As of April 18, Indigenous Services Canada reports a total of 34 long-term drinking water advisories in effect in 29 communities across the country.
In northwestern Ontario, advisories exist in 14 communities between the Kenora-Rainy River and Kiiwetinoong ridings, for about half of ISC’s remaining work. That means the region continues to have the highest concentration of long-term boil water advisories across Canada.
But there has been progress. Ottawa reports that there were 105 long-term boil water advisories in effect six years ago. Since 2016, the federal government says they’ve committed over $5.2 billion to repair water infrastructure in First Nation communities, helping to end over 100 long-term boil water advisories.
Ottawa committed to eliminating all long-term drinking water advisories on First Nation communities by March 31, 2021. While that goal wasn’t reached, the feds did commit an additional $1.5 billion to accelerate their work.
Newly appointed Indigenous Services Minister, Patty Hadju, said last year she’s considering a new timeline on when to lift the remaining long-term drinking water advisories. Since taking over the role of the previous minister, Marc Miller, Hadju has been able to lift 9 advisories.
The federal government has since launched a call for proposals for projects that address the retention, recruitment and availability of water and wastewater operators for First Nation communities in March of 2022, with up to $500,000 in funding available to winning project proposals.
This comes after a 2021 report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer, which showed the government’s spending until 2025-2026 is enough to build the infrastructure needed to end long-term boil water advisories across Canada, but the spending isn’t enough to maintain or operate those systems. The report estimated an annual funding gap of $138 million.