The taps to Winnipeg's drinking water were first turned on in April 1919, but as the city celebrated its engineering feat and raised glasses of that clear liquid, another community's fortunes suddenly turned dark. Construction of a new aqueduct plunged Shoal Lake 40 into a forced isolation that it is only now emerging from, 100 years after Winnipeg's politicians locked their sights on the water that cradles the First Nation at the Manitoba–Ontario border. "The price that our community has paid for one community to benefit from that resource, it's just mind-boggling," said Shoal Lake 40 Chief Erwin Redsky.
Bottled water is being flown in to supply the remote northern community of Shamattawa First Nation after a failure at the water treatment plant. The Red Cross is flying 14,000 litres of bottled water to the community from Thompson. Shamattawa is about 745 kilometres northeast of Winnipeg and 361 kilometres northeast of Thompson.
As Calgary dealt with a particularly frigid winter and a series of stubbornly frozen water lines, it turned for advice to a place that's used to dealing with such things.
"Winnipeg has probably a lot more expertise in this area than we do, because it's something they experience fairly routinely," said Chris Huston, the manager of drinking water distribution with the City of Calgary.
There were nearly 300 cases of frozen water-service lines this winter in Calgary, Huston said, and dozens remain frozen even now, despite the arrival of spring.
There is also concern the changes that were made that allowed some of the advisories to be lifted were just temporary fixes. There are long-term, structural problems with the water treatment systems in many Indigenous communities that have not been addressed. Many of these places lack the proper equipment needed to remedy the operational issues with which they are confronted.
Flett was confident that when the water left the plant it was as clean and drinkable as any you can find in Canada. Garden Hill has never had a long-term boil water advisory and even short-term advisories are rare. Even so, like many Garden Hill residents, Flett and his family refuse to drink the water that comes out of their tap at home. They stopped in 2015 after everyone in the family got sick.
The agreement reached between the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Canadian province of Manitoba sets up a team with Canadian representation to oversee treatment and monitoring of the river water, and among other duties help develop an emergency response plan. The team also is to have representatives of the state and federal governments south of the border, and is to meet at least once a year.
A watershed board focused on protecting Lake of the Woods is calling on Manitoba's provincial government to reduce the amount of phosphorus running into the basin. The organization wants the governments of Manitoba, Ontario and Canada to commit to an 18.4 per cent reduction in phosphorus loads to improve the health of the water body.