After years of boil-water advisories and E. coli scares, the Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation is finally getting safe water.
Thanks to a group of volunteers from the Canadian Auto Workers Union, repairs are currently being made to 58 of the community’s wells.
On Tuesday, the volunteer workers clocked a 16-hour day in order to finish a well.
“We didn’t want to leave a woman without water,” said Terry Farrell from the union’s skilled trades department.
Farrell spoke to the News by cellphone on Wednesday as he and his crew of 10 tradespeople made their way back out to the worksite.
The volunteers are rebuilding wells that have been contaminated for several years.
They will work for two weeks and then be replaced by a new crew of 10 more volunteers.
The 58 wells being upgraded during the month-long project will bring safe drinking water to about 70 homes.
In October, the Assembly of First Nations announced it had teamed up with the Canadian Auto Workers Union as part of its make-poverty-history campaign.
Little Salmon/Carmacks was selected as one of three projects to be undertaken during the first phase of this collaboration.
“We’re grateful to the (Canadian Auto Workers Union) for showing leadership and volunteering their time and skills and advancing some of the social justice and health issues in our community,” said Chief Eddie Skookum on Tuesday.
“And it’s good that different people like the CAW can step up to the plate when the government can’t.”
Since 2003, annual tests found E. coli and total coliform infecting 10 wells that service the First Nation’s main village.
Several residents have become sick as a result of drinking the contaminated water.
“Even the stress of knowing your water is unsafe is a health risk,” said Jordan Mullett, a water technician with the First Nation.
The community is currently under a boil-water advisory.
Ottawa, through Indian and Northern Affairs, has provided the First Nation with more than $700,000 in funding to improve its water with such tactics as shock chlorination and with equipment, such as water and sewer trucks.
Even though the poorly designed wells were built by the federal government, it hasn’t put any money towards the current project, said Mullett.
“It’s basically politics holding it up,” he said.
“(Indian and Northern Affairs) funds community systems, anything with five or more connections.”
Carmacks’ individual wells don’t meet these criteria, nor did a community piped-water system that the First Nation suggested.
While the union is providing its workers and their expertise free of charge, the First Nation has to pay for the materials and do a bit of digging.
This will end up costing the First Nation government about $140,000.
However, due to a lack of finances not all of the wells will be repaired this year and that will leave almost 30 wells in need of repair.
On Monday night, a celebration dinner was held at the local community hall to welcome the union workers.
“The community is excited and glad to see them out here,” said Mullett.
“I’m glad to see some ground being broken to solve some problems in the community.”