Source Water Protection With First Nations

By Bob Patrick, PhD

Water is essential to all life. The risk to human health and to the natural environment from the contamination of water sources is a concern for First Nations. As a result, some First Nations in Saskatchewan have completed “On-Reserve Source Water Protection Plans”. These plans help to protect drinking water sources from potentially harmful contamination.

Source water is untreated water from groundwater or surface water sources that supplies drinking water for human consumption. Source water protection is a vital first step in the protection of water supplies.

The figure below shows a five stage process to guide source water protection planning.

Figure 1: Source Water Protection Plan (framework)

STAGE 1:              Establish a Working Committee

The first stage is to call on volunteers from your community to draft your source water protection plan. Members of your Working Committee may be the treatment plant operator, land manager, Elders, youth, membership and elected leadership.

STAGE 2:              Source Water Risk Assessment

Stage 2 of the source water protection plan provides an overview of the on-reserve water system, drinking water service area, source protection planning area, land uses and potential water contaminants, human health risks and management actions to reduce these risks. Typical risks may include cisterns, uncapped wells, landfill contaminants, flooding of sewage lagoon, shot-outs, etc.

STAGE 3:              Identify Risk Management Actions

Upon completion of the on-reserve source water assessment (Stage 2), the Working Committee will proceed to identify management actions to address each identified potential risk. This may include cistern repair or replacement, well decommissioning, landfill clean-up, etc.

STAGE 4:              Develop an Implementation Strategy

In response to the management actions that were identified previously in Stage 3, the Working Committee will develop an Implementation Strategy outlining the necessary stakeholders, funding sources and timelines to complete the management actions. In the past, INAC have provided funding for plan development and plan implementation.

STAGE 5:              Source Water Protection Plan Review and Update

On an annual cycle, the Working Committee should undertake a full review of the source water protection plan. This will be a time to celebrate implementation success and to set next priorities for implementation.

Saskatchewan First Nations with completed source water protection plans that follow this planning framework include Muskowekwan First Nation, Mistawasis Nêhiyawak, and Cumberland House Cree Nation. For more information on this planning process please contact Bob Patrick at the Department of Geography and Planning, University of Saskatchewan at robert.patrick@usask.ca