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Nova Scotia First Nation grappling with water woes to build new treatment plant

Last Updated Jan 12, 2018 at 11:40 am EST

Potlotek First Nation Chief Wilbert Marshall, left, and Christopher McDonell, regional director general of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, speak at a community meeting to address Potlotek's concerns over drinking water in St. Peters, N.S., on Tuesday, October 4, 2016. An official with a Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq community that has struggled for more than a decade with brown and smelly water, says construction on a new water treatment facility is expected to begin this summer. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Steve Wadden

CHAPEL ISLAND, N.S. – A Nova Scotia Mi’kmaq community that has dealt for more than a decade with brown and foul-smelling water should see construction begin this summer on a new treatment facility, according to a local official.

Quentin Doucette, director of public works for Potlotek First Nation in Cape Breton, said Friday that a new water plant is in the design phase and a tender for the project is expected to be issued by June.

“We are going to build a new water plant and replace the water tower that is there and provide a new line from the tower directly to the water plant,” said Doucette. “That is going to be good news.”

That news comes for the community of 500 people, formerly known as Chapel Island First Nation, after working with Ottawa on a solution for their water problems for 10 years.

High levels of iron and manganese in the lake that serves as the reserve’s main water source has left residents unable to drink, bathe or wash clothes in the water.

Doucette said the current plant has outdated technology that is unable to deal with mineral spikes that are most prevalent in late summer and early fall. The problem also resurfaces in the early spring, he said.

Health Canada has said there are no known health impacts, and that boiling the water would only further concentrate the minerals. As a result the reserve has often resorted to handing out bottled water to residents and to providing public showering facilities.

“It’s a headache,” Doucette said. “For years when you talk to anybody in Health they always say it’s just aesthetics. I said yeah, it’s just aesthetics but it you have brown water coming out of your tap you don’t want to drink it.”

Doucette said the cost for a new water plant and tower is around $6 million according to federal estimates, with construction to begin later in the summer.

He said the plan is to have the plant ready for use by the end of 2019 or earlier.

“It depends on how construction goes,” Doucette said.

He said plans will be put in place to ensure limited disruptions to water use by residents during construction.

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