Group uses Winnipeg boil-water advisory to highlight First Nation water woes

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, which provides Winnipeg with water through an aqueduct, has been under a boil-water advisory for 17 years

WINNIPEG – A group is using Winnipeg’s boil-water advisory to highlight the ongoing struggles of the First Nation that supplies the city with its drinking water.

Shoal Lake 40 First Nation, which provides Winnipeg with water through an aqueduct, has been under a boil-water advisory for 17 years. Chuck Wright said it’s time Winnipeg residents learned more about the cost of their drinking water.

“I really hope that the inconvenience of only a day and a half of an E. coli scare that it will create more empathy for the many, many First Nations, not just Shoal Lake 40, that have been under boil-water advisories and without adequate drinking water for so many years, sometimes decades,” he said.

Wright and a few others handed out bottled water Thursday in downtown Winnipeg, plastered with the label “Boil Water Advisory Day Count — Winnipeg: 1.5, Shoal Lake 40: 6,205+” to raise awareness about the reserve.

Winnipeg’s boil advisory was issued on Tuesday after routine testing found coliform and E. coli at extremely low levels in six of 39 water samples. Although subsequent tests Wednesday came back clean, the city is testing once again before lifting the ban. An update is expected later Thursday.

Shoal Lake, on the Ontario-Manitoba boundary, was flooded and essentially made into an island so Winnipeg could tap its water. For years, the community has lived under a boil-water advisory while calling for the construction of an all-weather road.

“While clean drinking water is still in the air, in the public mind, we wanted to come out and remind Winnipegers of this disparity,” Wright said. “We hope, as a response, people will contemplate more where their water comes from and what our responsibility is through our relationship to Shoal Lake 40 First Nation.”

Throughout the boil-water advisory, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman has urged residents to remain calm while the city continues to test the water.

Businesses and residents were told that tap water was safe for bathing and laundry, but were advised to boil it for at least a minute before drinking it.

Most coffee shops and restaurants were open, although some menu items were not available. Schools were also open, but some warned students to bring bottled water because the water fountains were closed. It was business as usual at city pools.

Hospitals saw no sign of a spike in illness, and surgeries and other services went on as usual.

Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.