Protecting Drinking Water in Indigenous Communities in Canada’s North


A 5 year Leadership Grant from the RBC Blue Water Project (2009-2014) supported the Institute for Watershed Science (IWS), partnered with the Indigenous Environmental Studies Department at Trent University and the Centre for Alternative Wastewater Treatment (CAWT) at Fleming College, to develop strategies for Source Water Protection and municipal wastewater management in remote communities in Canada’s northern territories. The past has shown that reliance on technological solutions for treating municipal water supplies will not ensure the safety of drinking water. Conventional wastewater treatment solutions are not feasible in the far north. Multi-barrier approaches to ensuring safe supplies of drinking water are now being implemented in most provinces and territories in Canada. It is particularly difficult to deliver safe, potable water to remote communities in Canada’s north as there are limited resources for infrastructure and training, and climate conditions introduce technological challenges. Currently there is little capacity within remote Indigenous communities in Canada’s north to develop and implement multi-barrier approaches to “source water protection” (SWP), and there are still a disproportionate number of drinking water safety issues in Canada’s First Nations and Inuit communities.

A unique feature of the program is the development of training initiatives that fully integrate the Indigenous Knowledge of the communities with western science to create culturally relevant source water protection plans for northern Indigenous communities. The overall project goal was to develop programs for SWP through a combination of community based training, technical training courses for water professionals and college level courses that ensure the sustainability of SWP initiatives throughout the north. Working with a number of partner academic organizations, government agencies and non-governmental organizations the project has had the following outcomes:

  • Developement and annual delivery of college courses on SWP at Yukon College, YT, and Aurora College, NT.

  • Sustainable community government training opportunities on SWP through the Government of the NWT School of Community Government Land Management Program.

  • Water Operator Training workshops for Northern water and wastewater personnel through the Northern Territories Water and Waste Association.
  • Comprenhensive science and information manuals for wastewater regulators and operators through the Centre for Alternative Wastewater Treatment (CAWT)at Fleming College that describe and optimize the use of natural tundra wetlands for the treatment of municipal wastewater.

The IWS is pleased to announce that the overall project goals have been met!

See link below for the Final report on the project outcomes.

Final Public Report

To view the documents produced at the CAWT on the role of natural tundra wetlands in municipal wastewater treatment in the far north go to: