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Originally published in “From The Tap,” the newsletter of the Safe Drinking Water Foundation

An initiative based in northwestern Ontario called the Safe Water Project is empowering First Nations communities to manage their drinking water systems, leading to the elimination of long-standing boil water advisories and higher levels of confidence in the safety of water in participating communities.

The Project was designed by the Chiefs of Keewaytinook Okimakanak (KO) to resolve the challenges their communities faced in accessing safe drinking water. The Project involves training and certifying local community members to become water operators, as well as providing them with the support and technology they need to monitor their communities’ water. This innovative approach addresses one of the most common barriers many First Nations communities face in accessing safe drinking water: the lack of locally certified personnel.

Launched in May 2015 in five of KO’s communities, the Safe Water Project has eliminated three long-standing boil water advisories and is on its way to eliminating one of the longest standing advisories in Ontario. To date, the Project has trained nine Indigenous water operators to various levels of provincial certification.

In October 2016, the federal government invested $4.4 million in the Safe Water Project as part of its commitment to end boil water advisories in Indigenous communities. With this new funding, the Project has expanded to support an additional 14 First Nations in northern Ontario.

The Safe Water Project is a solution developed by First Nations for First Nations, and its community-centred approach to water management is helping First Nations take control of their water systems and end boil water advisories. The Safe Water Project is preparing to further expand into neighbouring jurisdictions and would like to hear from interested communities and Tribal Councils.