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Drinking Water Safety Program

​​ The Drinking Water Safety Program (DWSP) works in partnership with First Nations (FN) communities to support access to safe and reliable drinking water of their community water systems. As part of the DWSP team, Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) can:

• Conduct drinking water system inspections and testing of drinking water quality for bacteriological, chemical, physical and radiological parameters to meet the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
• Interpret drinking water quality results.
• Provide advice, guidance and recommendations to FN communities about drinking water safety issues such as boil water advisories (BWA), do not consume advisories (DNC) or do not use (DNU) advisories.
• Provide training for the Community-Based Water Monitors (CBWMs) to collect and send water samples for testing; and, where available, analyse samples using in-community testing equipment. 
• Review plans for new or upgraded community water systems from a public health perspective.
• Provide information and support on safe drinking water practices and prevention of risks to Chief and Council and community members.
• Investigate water borne illnesses.

In communities where it is difficult to test drinking water for microbial contamination on a regular basis or get water samples to an accredited laboratory, EHOs will assist FN communities with establishing a Community Based Drinking Water Quality Monitoring Program.

Community Based Drinking Water Quality Monitoring Program​

Community-Based Drinking Water Monitors (CBWM) play a key role in the drinking water safety program as the designated person responsible for sampling, testing, recording and communicating the microbiological quality of treated water within the community. The CBWM is also responsible for disseminating results and developing and implementing a drinking water quality awareness program.

The CBWM may be a Community Health Representative (CHR), Water Treatment Plant Operator (WTPO), or another individual selected by Chief and Council.  If a community does not have a CBWM, the activities may be completed by the Environmental Health Officer or an FNHA Environmental Health Technician.

Environmental Health Officers train CBWMs to sample and test the drinking water for potential bacteriological contamination using community lab equipment (Colilert®).  WaterTrax®, an internet-based data management system, is used to manage all drinking water quality data to which the CBWM and the Drinking Water Safety Program (DWSP) team have access.​

Water Awareness Initiative (coming soon)


Drinking Water Advisories

Drinking water advisories are preventive measures put in place to protect public health from drinking water that could be contaminated. In a First Nation community, a drinking water advisory can affect as little as one building and does not always represent a community-wide drinking water problem. 

Drinking water advisories are put in place for various reasons, including problems in the overall water system, such as line breaks, equipment failure, and poor filtration or disinfection during water treatment. A drinking water advisory may also be implemented as a precautionary measure, such as when there are emergency repairs in the water distribution system or if a community does not have the required staff to support operation. 

The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) Environmental Public Health Services (EPHS) provides advice and guidance to communities on drinking water safety, including recommendations on when a drinking water advisory is warranted. It is the responsibility of Chief and Council to implement an advisory and take the necessary remedial measures to rectify the problems which led to the advisory.

While some advisories can be rectified through typical maintenance procedures, others require a significant investment in infrastructure improvements and the initiation of an infrastructure investment project to funding agencies such as ​Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada​. Once remedial measures have been implemented, EPHS supports the communities in verifying that the drinking water has returned to safe quality and is protected from potential future recurrence.

Types of Drinking Water Advisories include:

Boil Water Advisory (BWA): Issued as a preventative measure to protect public health when the water in a community's water system is known or suspected  to have disease-causing bacteria, viruses or parasites that can cause waterborne illness or when water quality is questionable and boiling will remove the contaminant from the water. 

Do Not Consume (DNC): Issued when the water in a community's water system contains a contaminant, such as a chemical, that cannot be removed from the water by boiling. The water should not be used for drinking; brushing their teeth; cooking; washing fruits and vegetables; making infant formula or other drinks, soups or ice cubes; for bathing infants and toddlers or feeding pets but may continue to be used for domestic purposes such as showering and bathing.

Do Not Use (DNU): Issued when the water system contains contamination that cannot be removed from the water by boiling and consumption of the water poses a health risk and exposure to the water when bathing could cause skin, eye or nose irritation.

As of May 31, 2016, there were 21 Boil Water Advisories and 5 Do Not Consume advisories for a total of 26 Drinking Water Advisories in effect in 23 First Nation communities in British Columbia.  This includes water systems with 5 or more connections and smaller water systems that have public facilities.

First Nations community members can obtain the most up-to-date information on drinking water in their community through Chief and Council, or their local FNHA EHO on the page here​.

External and media inquiries can be directed to FNHA Media Relations.

​FNHA Drinking Water Safety Program Factsheet (PDF 1.25 MB)

Lead and Copper in Drinkin​g Water Communique (PDF 68 KB)



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