Potlotek residents frustrated with latest water advisory

Bernadette Marshall, left, and Lynn Boyce, right, are frustrated with the latest water advisory in Potlotek First Nation, N.S./Photo by Stephen Brake

Residents in Potlotek First Nation in Nova Scotia are growing frustrated with the latest water advisory issued by Health Canada.

“The anger is building up within our community and you don’t want that. Our community is very peaceful,” Bernadette Marshall said on Friday.

Health Canada informed the small Mi’kmaw community on Sept. 11 that residents should not use their tap water to drink, bathe or wash their clothes due to the elevated levels of iron and manganese in the water. Contents of the email sent to the community by Health Canada was posted on Facebook.

Residents in Potlotek currently use water from a nearby lake for its drinking water/Photo by Stephen Brake

“The latest results show that both manganese and iron concentrations in the drinking water supply are in exceedance of the aesthetic objectives set out in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality,” Jason Catoul with Health Canada wrote in the email.

“As I was sitting there reading and reading, I got angrier and angrier,” Marshall said when she saw the Facebook post on her computer.

“I went to the sink and I poured my frigging water down the sink, you know,” she said.

Potlotek Chief Wilbert Marshall shares his fellow residents’ frustration with continuing water quality issues in his community.

Potlotek First Nation Chief Wilbert Marshall/Photo by Stephen Brake

“It’s been an ongoing thing for the last 40 years,” Chief Marshall said on Friday.

Higher levels of manganese and iron in drinking water

Potlotek currently uses a lake within the community for its drinking water. However, the community’s current water filtration system cannot filter out manganese and iron.

According to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, the latest water quality issue in Potlotek is a seasonal one. The department says the changing temperature in the lake during the spring and fall causes the higher levels of iron and manganese in the lake water.

“Levels usually decline when the seasonal factors end,” INAC spokeswoman Stephanie Palma wrote in an email response to Ku’ku’kwes News on Monday.

INAC has provided the community with bottled water as well as trailers installed with shower stalls, washers and dryers for residents to use while the water advisory is in place.

In Sept. 2016, Potlotek was under a similar water advisory by Health Canada. At the time, INAC agreed to install a new water system for the community to filter manganese and iron.

“Design work is underway for the installation of a new water treatment system as part of a long-term solution for this community of approximately 600 people,” Palma stated in the email.

In the meantime, Palma said interim repairs to the existing system have been completed.

“How are our elders going to manage without running water?”

Bernadette Marshall/Photo by Stephen Brake

“It’s not going to happen in two months. It’s not going to happen in three months. This is going to happen, maybe a year’s time,” Bernadette Marshall said.

“So I’m worried now about winter coming. What are we going to do as Potlotek people? How are our elders going to manage without running water?” she asked.

Chief Marshall said he understands his community members frustrations with the ongoing water quality issues while a long term solution is being worked out. That’s why he is seriously considering working with Brewel, an Irish company that states it can remove manganese and iron from the lake water.

“What caught my eye is that they fix sewer water. If they could fix sewer water and you can make it drinkable, what’s the lake,” Chief Marshall said.

Meanwhile, community member Lynn Boyce is concerned about long term health effects that may arise from consuming water with high levels of manganese and iron.

“With our community itself, with the high cancer rates, the infant mortality deaths, we’ve had 13 deaths of children between 2007-2009,” Boyce said on Friday.

Lynn Boyce/Photo by Stephen Brake

“I’m not saying this just because I’ve, like you know, I feel it’s a problem. I’m saying it because I’ve read about the studies that have been done like in Canada, in North Caroline or wherever manganese is seen as an issue,” she said.

Boyce says the money INAC is spending on a new water system for Potlotek could be better spent on installing water filtration systems in residents’ homes.

“I think the easiest solution is to provide these 187 homes we have in the community with water filtration systems, you know,” Boyce said.

“I don’t think we’re going to find any better source of water,” she added.

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About Maureen Googoo 270 Articles
Maureen Googoo is an award-winning journalist from Indian Brook First Nation (Sipekne'katik) in Nova Scotia. She has worked in news more than 30 years for media outlets such as CBC Radio, the Chronicle-Herald and the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network. Maureen has an arts degree in political science from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, a journalism degree from Ryerson University in Toronto and a Masters degree in journalism from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York City.