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Slate Falls water system maxed out

Wednesday April 18, 2012
Slate Falls chief Lorraine Crane (left) talks to reporters about the challenge facing her community due to the need for a central water pumping station.

Slate Falls is looking for a central water system to replace 11 small water pump stations located around the road-access community.

“We have a lot of concerns about the water system in our community,” said Slate Falls Chief Lorraine Crane. “We are at a standstill with housing — we can no longer add on to any of the (water) pump houses. They’re all maxed out.”

Crane said there is a shortage of homes in the community, as the First Nation has been unable to build new homes because of the water pump shortage.

The chief also noted that the equipment in the water pump stations is out of date and difficult to obtain.

“All the parts have to come from Quebec whenever something happens,” Crane said. “And that’s a chore and a half to try to get those parts.”

When the community of about 200 on-reserve band members was relocated in 1990 from its old location on the far side of the lake, it was built in a horseshoe shape around the lake to provide each home with waterfront access. Each neighbourhood in Slate Falls is now served by its own water pump station.

Crane said a central water system would cost about $3.5 million, noting they have sent a proposal to the federal government.

The community is currently on a boil-water advisory, but it does have a supply of clean drinking water from a reverse-osmosis system installed by the band a couple of years ago.

“We actually used other funds to build that,” Crane said. “We went ahead and used other funds that are needed elsewhere.”

Crane said the federal government has since decided to reimburse the community for the cost of the reverse-osmosis system.

“I believe we have a lot of potential here in the community if we had good infrastructure,” Crane said. “There is lots that could be done in a drive-in community.”

Slate Falls owns two outpost tourist camps located to the north and east of the community, and a float-plane airline.

“We’re hoping to use our airline to go to other communities as well as the mine sites that are opening up in the area to generate revenue for the community,” Crane said. “We do business off the reserve to generate income for the community. But inside the community, we don’t even have a community store. We have ma and pop operations, people selling out of their bedrooms.”

Grand Chief Stan Beardy said Slate Falls’ situation is not unique as at any given time 50 per cent of the 49 Nishnawbe Aski Nation communities are on boil-water advisories.

“If we were to calculate what is required to bring drinking water standards to acceptable safe standards, we need a lot more than was identified in the recent (federal) budget,” Beardy said, noting the national water assessment released in 2011 identified a need of $4.7 billion over 10 years for First Nation water systems across Canada. “The thing that puzzles me all the time is within Nishnawbe Aski, we cover six per cent of the land mass of Canada and two-thirds of Ontario. We have real people living here with real needs and when the governments of Canada and Ontario talk what the needs are within their jurisdiction, it almost seems that First Nations people are being excluded every time.”

The March 29 federal budget included $330 million over two years to build and renovate water infrastructure in the 600 First Nation communities across Canada.

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