Ahousaht First Nation moves to solve water crisis after leaks

The water level is rising in the reservoir serving the First Nations community of Ahousaht, north of Tofino, but concerns about the capacity to fight fires remain, as does a boil-water advisory.

The First Nation declared a local state of emergency after multiple leaks in the community’s water distribution system led reservoir levels to drop to 32 per cent, said Ahousaht Chief Greg Louie. A water level of at least 60 per cent is needed for firefighting capacity.

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As of Wednesday, all known leaks had been repaired, he said. A barge was bringing more water to the water treatment plant, and bacteriological tests of the water were due back on Friday.

“We have to wait and see now, with this new bargeload of water coming and the leak repaired, if our reservoir will surpass firefighting levels,” Louie said, “and, if there’s rain tomorrow, if there will be turbidity.”

A precautionary boil-water advisory went into effect Sunday after the water operator noticed an increase in water turbidity, said the First Nations Health Authority. An environmental health officer was sent to carry out further tests.

According to the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council technical adviser on site, debris from road construction might have washed into the dam during heavy rainfall over the weekend, causing increased turbidity in the water, said Indigenous Services Canada.

The Ahousaht First Nation indicated it needed to relocate elders and vulnerable community members. Emergency Management B.C. said it is supporting about 50 evacuees who are staying at the Best Western Tin Wis resort in Tofino.

Indigenous Services Canada said it is working closely with the Ahousaht First Nation to ensure a consistent supply of clean water.

Scott Fraser, B.C.’s minister of Indigenous relations and reconciliation, said his office is working with Indigenous Services and Ahousaht’s leadership.

“Everyone is coming together to resolve this as quickly as possible,” said Fraser, who represents Mid Island-Pacific Rim. “We are all focused on making sure the people in Ahousaht have access to safe drinking water and the ability to protect the community in the event there’s a fire.”

Meanwhile, businesses, community organizations, charities and governments are pitching in.

“Ahousaht is very impressed and overwhelmed and thankful to all of those who have donated water and made financial donations,” Louie said. “We are very, very thankful to all those people, some who we don’t even know, and all the organizations, some who we don’t even associate with, who are helping.”

Amy Jonsson of Cermaq Canada said the fish farm company in Tofino provided a barge and shipped about 113,000 litres of water in large storage tanks and about 760 water-cooler jugs of sealed potable water to Ahousaht.

The company said it was only one part of a larger community effort that included the District of Tofino, Tofino Volunteer Fire Department, Crow Excavating and Trucking, P&H Cranes, and Wichito Marine Services.

“When things like this happen, it’s important that everyone comes together to help out,” Jonsson said.

Khalsa Aid, an international Sikh humanitarian agency, also sent drinking water. “We’re shipping a skid of water today,” said Victoria’s Jatinder Singh, director of the agency’s Canadian branch. The coast guard is transporting the water, he said.

The Khalsa Aid’s team in Port Alberni also sent a dozen sanitizers, Singh said. “We’ve had a lot of people up-Island wanting to do more. We’re just talking about what else they need.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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