On Sept. 11 the Potlotek Events and Community News Facebook page announced to its members that residents of Potlotek should not “consume, bath or launder clothes with the water” and should bring their own water containers and jugs to a community hall in Potlotek to fill the jugs with potable water.
This water ban is caused by exceedingly high levels of “magnesium and iron” found within the resident’s tap water. Health Canada, Canada’s department of health, made the official announcement on Aug. 25 yet it took over two weeks for the information to disseminate to residents.
Residents are highly frustrated. Bernadette Marshall, a Potlotek First Nations resident, said she was really angry and didn’t know of the drinking ban until it appeared on the Facebook page on Sept. 11, commenting that she had been drinking the water until that time. Residents were left scrambling to find clean showers, ways to wash their clothes and how to get an adequate supply of drinking water in their homes.
According to the BBC, Health Canada says it will continue to monitor the water quality in Potlotek and find ways to remedy the problem. The department claims that the high levels of toxic metals, the water’s brown and foul-smell is due to “seasonal factors.”
Yet, potable water in Potlotek has been an issue for several years. In September 2016, residents of Potlotek protested the fact that their water ran thick with black sediments and smelled bad. Residents said their clothes turned brown after washing their clothes and their hair was filled with brown sediment after bathing.
During town meetings in 2016, residents challenged the conflicting advice they received about drinking the water. Health Canada advisor Dr. David Jones told residents that, “nobody is saying the water is good to drink — it tastes bad, it looks bad, but it is not, however, dangerous — it’s not unsafe in terms of the levels of manganese.”
Residents challenged Jones saying that the water simply wasn’t suitable for consumption or any type of use. They asserted that the water system’s antiquated infrastructure was largely to blame. Because of aging infrastructure, Potelek is forced to get their water from a nearby lake whose underground aquifers leach iron and magnesium into it.
Bernadette Marshall said she had lost 3 brothers to cancer, all of whom worked in the Polotek water system. More recently, residents say skin rashes and stomach illnesses that are likely caused by this toxic metals.
In 2016 Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to invest $141.700,000 Canadian dollars over the course of five years to monitor and test drinking water in Canada’s First Nation’s reservations and $1.8 billion to maintain and operate drinking water facilities.
The CBC reports, as of Sept. 13 that a new water system has been designed, but there is no timeframe for its construction. Meanwhile, the First Nation’s people of Potlotek are tired waiting, protesting and carrying potable water to their homes.