Community-based source water protection planning

Increasing equitable access to safe drinking water

Access to safe drinking water is something most Canadians take for granted. But for many Indigenous communities, it’s a different story. Some areas have been under boil water advisories for decades, and efforts to solve the underlying problems seem to hit roadblock after roadblock.

For Rosey Radmanovich, the injustice of this situation led her to specialize in water access as an environmental liaison with the First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group (TSAG) in Alberta. Through TSAG’s community-based programming, she works directly with First Nations communities to solve some of their most pressing water access issues.

“Community-based initiatives are really important,” Radmanovich said. “They’re often more effective than policies and programs designed and implemented at higher levels and removed from the communities they affect.”

Sharing knowledge to protect source water

In January 2019, TSAG held a two-day knowledge-sharing workshop attended by representatives of nine First Nations communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan that were at various stages of source water protection planning.

“We wanted to bring these communities together to find out more about the barriers they’ve faced and to help them create an informal network,” said Radmanovich. “We wanted communities developing source water protection plans to be able to reach out to other communities who understand their challenges and who might have solutions that can help.”

In addition to facilitating knowledge exchange, one of the key objectives of the workshop was to find out how different conditions could produce different challenges to water protection and access. But what they heard from participants was that despite differences in community location, remoteness or size, or in the provincial policies that affect them, the main challenges they faced were nearly identical. Almost all reported that resources—both financial and human—were among their biggest challenges.

Finding solutions to common challenges

As an example, funding was an issue commonly cited by workshop participants. The funding programs they need don’t always exist. And even when they do, there are often very specific eligibility and access criteria that communities struggle to meet. Many require affiliation with an academic institution and most don’t provide for private water systems like wells or cisterns, which are common in First Nations communities.

It can also be difficult for First Nations communities to be actively involved in large-scale watershed planning initiatives. Because most community leaders serve multiple roles, leaving their communities for days at a time to attend meetings is not always possible.

Radmanovich is hoping to make this workshop an annual event and to expand participation to include more communities, government representatives and other water-planning organizations.

“We want this to be a vehicle for even greater collaboration that will not only empower First Nations communities to make their own decisions, but also benefit the watershed overall,” she said.

Want to learn more?

Visit TSAG’s website or check out their Facebook page.