Drinking water and waste water treatment

drinking-waterThe JBNQA confers powers on Cree First Nations for the purposes of natural resource management and environmental protection on Category I lands. The Cree-Naskapi (of Québec) Act, passed in 1984, stipulates the powers in relation to health and hygiene on Category IA lands*. By virtue of the Act, responsibility for drinking water and wastewater management was transferred to the Cree First Nations.

A gastroenteritis epidemic in 1980 raised questions as to the quality of drinking water in Cree communities. The JBACE noted that engineering firms had supervised the installation of treatment systems in several communities, but failed to ensure adequate monitoring of the facilities’ maintenance.

In 1982, a JBACE subcommittee travelled to Waskaganish to examine the framework for local infrastructure projects and identify any flaws in the assessment and review procedure. In the JBACE’s opinion, the procedure needed to cover construction plans and specifications.

Two years later, the JBACE found itself reminding local officials that development projects on Category I lands are subject to impact assessment and review under the JBNQA and must undergo the procedure before being approved. The Ministère de l’Environnement du Québec (MENV), in cooperation with the Cree Regional Authority, conducted a quality inspection of existing infrastructures. At the end of this exercise, MENV recommended that drinking water chlorination systems be upgraded; the JBACE endorsed this recommendation.

In 1984, following the adoption of the Québec Drinking Water Regulation, the JBACE asked the Québec government to make good on its promise regarding bacteriological and physico-chemical analysis of drinking water in Cree communities. The Committee also encouraged the Cree communities to pass local drinking water and wastewater by-laws while complying with existing standards. The Council of the Cree Nation of Eastmain passed a drinking water by-law for its community in 2002.

On more than one occasion, the JBACE tried to serve as intermediary between the Cree communities and the governments. In 1993, following contamination of Chisasibi’s water table, the JBACE encouraged Indian and Northern Affairs Canada to provide technical assistance and data on the community’s drinking water system. In 2001, during the preparation of Québec’s Regulation respecting the quality of drinking water, the JBACE asked the Ministère de l’Environnement du Québec to send information on the state of the Cree communities’ drinking water systems with a view to upgrading them.

In 2000, the Québec government announced the holding of public hearings on water management. The JBACE and the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement (BAPE) jointly chaired the consultation sessions in the James Bay Territory. After meeting with four Cree communities, the JBACE helped revise the section of the BAPE report dealing with the James Bay region.

During this process, the JBACE reiterated the need to adapt fish consumption guidelines to the realities of the James Bay region. The Committee suggested developing a system for collecting aquatic data to ensure more effective measurement of the impacts of hydroelectric, forestry and mining projects.

Wastewater Management

In 1984, the Québec government tabled a draft wastewater treatment policy for Northern Québec: the JBACE proposed amendments to facilitate the policy’s application in the James Bay region. The Committee also facilitated the signing of an agreement between the Cree First Nation of Whapmagoostui (Great Whale), the Cree Housing Corporation and the Ministère de l’Environnement on wastewater from a residential construction project. Until the sewer systems in the Cree and Inuit areas were integrated, wastewater from the new residential district was to undergo minimum treatment before being released into the Inuit sewer system, from where it would flow to Hudson Bay.

*  Category IA lands are set aside for the Crees and fall under federal jurisdiction. Category IB lands, which are smaller in area, are set aside for the Crees and fall under Québec jurisdiction.

 Next section: Residual and hazardous materials management