A First Nation based in Vernon is suing the federal government to try to get better drinking water.
The Okanagan Indian Band is filing a lawsuit over what it feels is Ottawa’s failure to improve the water system on the 100 square kilometre reserve which draws water from a series of underground aquifers.
Those systems rely on groundwater wells, and the band says many of those wells supply untreated water to hundreds of homes.
“There’s about seven systems, but they’ve only made upgrades to one of those systems,” said Okanagan Chief Byron Louis. “Our largest water system is under a do not consume order.”
Louis says the situation is made worse by the fact individual septic fields may be contaminating drinking water. He says the bands’ water systems have not been significantly upgraded since they were installed in the 1970s.
There are about 2,000 members of the Okanagan First Nation and thousands more residents with recreational homes and properties on its lands.
“It’s no different than any other community,” said Louis. “Our citizens shouldn’t have to jeopardize their health by turning on their taps.”
Tried working with Ottawa
Louis says the band has worked with Ottawa to try to find a solution but after nine years it is tired of talking.
“We lost faith in a system I would characterize as negligent. We are stuck in limbo between a federal policy that underfunds our system and provincial infrastructure resources we cannot access.”
The federal government committed to removing all long-term drinking water advisories on reserves by 2021.
Eighty-seven water quality advisories have been lifted since 2015, according to the Indigenous Services Canada website.
Fifty-six remain in place.
An official with the minister of Indigenous services says in an email that between 2012 and 2016 just over $4 million was provided to the Okanagan Indian Band for design and construction of new water systems.
The ministry says it continues to work with the Okanagan Band to improve its drinking water.