Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What is the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority?

The Atlantic First Nations Water Authority [AFNWA] is a not-for-profit water utility that is owned and operated by First Nations, for First Nations. Our goal is to provide clean drinking water and safe wastewater services to participating First Nations communities. AFNWA is also responsible for the operation, maintenance and upgrade of all water and wastewater assets in our member communities.

What are the benefits of AFNWA participation?

AFWNA membership benefits are:

  • First Nations control and capacity building: Service delivery transfer is an opportunity to support and enhance First Nations self-determination, as AFNWA will gain control and responsibility over the design and delivery of water and wastewater services to member First Nations. The service delivery model that AFNWA has developed is reflective of the needs and priorities of member First Nations, which have been identified through extensive engagements with communities, technicians, and leadership.

AFNWA represents a new pathway towards closing the infrastructure gap, as the Government of Canada will enter into long-term funding agreements with AFNWA, based on innovative data-driven infrastructure needs assessments and long-term capital plans. This approach will allow for better long-term planning in support of community growth and economic opportunities. Because AFNWA is owned and operated by First Nations, it will generate long-term employment and career development opportunities for Indigenous peoples in the water and wastewater sector. AFNWA employees will also be supported with training and career opportunities that provide fair and competitive wages.

  • Sustainable funding: First Nations under AFNWA will no longer be subject to conditional Indigenous Services Canada [ISC] applications for capital funding. Rather, they will receive the benefits of sustainable funding from the federal government for a long-term capital plan.
  • Transfer of legal liability: Chiefs and Councils are currently responsible, financially and legally, for all water and wastewater services in their communities. AFNWA will protect Chief and Council by accepting all liability associated with water and wastewater services.
  • Risk reduction: AFNWA will apply best practice standards of care in operational procedures, while minimizing the risks of system failure or a public health crisis due to unsafe water.
  • Increased operational efficiencies: Consolidating water and wastewater services under a single organization will increase operational efficiency, providing a consistent level of service to meet the highest standards in Canada. As well, the AFNWA will have in-house expertise in operations and engineering to support community level operators, along with an integrated Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system for full time remote monitoring and data capture of the condition of water and wastewater assets on all AFNWA First Nations.
  • A strong, unified voice: AFNWA represents its member communities and will be responsible for all aspects of water and wastewater services. With a unified Atlantic First Nations voice, we can deliver quality services and negotiate better contracts and pricing with water services venders, while providing high standards for procurement that maximizes benefits to all communities.
  • Economic development opportunities: Having clean, safe drinking water and wastewater will encourage small businesses and industries to expand into First Nations communities, resulting in economic opportunities.

How will the AFNWA affect jobs in my community?

AFNWA’s goal is to build First Nations capacity.  Our Board of Directors [Board] resolved that all First Nations Operators will be offered employment at the time of system responsibility transfer. These Operators will be supported with further training and career opportunities. Scholarships are established at NSCC and NBCC to promote greater educational opportunities for Indigenous students in Atlantic Canada.

How many jobs will this create? What kind of jobs will they be? Will they be set aside for only Indigenous people?

AFNWA expects to employ approximately 45 people during the 2022-23 fiscal year, for positions including engineers, superintendents, operators, technologists, human resources, and accounting, with the majority being First Nations. In addition to increased employment, business opportunities will arise for local contractors, suppliers, and support services. As such, AFNWA proposes to create contracts with public works departments and local contractors in member communities for direct support services. As a result, AFNWA will support First Nations capacity development through career and further training opportunities.

What type of service enhancements will AFNWA undertake?

AFNWA completed a comprehensive Asset Management Plan to ensure a consistent approach to the management of assets in participating communities. The AMP included a 10-year capital budget to keep assets in a state of good repair, ensure compliance with national standards for drinking water and wastewater, and facilitate economic growth.  


AFNWA is also working to develop Water Safety Plans (WSPs) for operations. A WSP represents a proactive method for managing risk in water supply systems and has been conducted successfully in over 90 countries, either at a jurisdictional level or through case studies. WSPs have not been developed extensively in Canada or First Nations communities, except for the province of Alberta. The WSP approach focuses on prioritizing risk with control through mitigation procedures, such as identification and management of operational hazards instead of focusing solely on water quality monitoring programs.

Why is Indigenous Services Canada [ISC] exploring the transfer of infrastructure service delivery to Indigenous partners?

The mandate of ISC is to address and close socio-economic gaps that persist between Indigenous peoples and Canadians, while improving access to high-quality services. In accordance with this mandate, the ISC Minister and department continue to work with partners like AFNWA to improve essential infrastructure for Indigenous communities and invest in capacity building initiatives. The transfer of infrastructure service delivery is rooted in supporting and advancing the self-determination of First Nations, to transition away from the colonial approach associated with The Indian Act.

Is the Government of Canada [federal government] committed to supporting AFNWA?

The federal government agreed to work with AFNWA to fully operationalize the utility. AFNWA and ISC signed a Framework Agreement to define their relationship, facilitate the transfer of water and wastewater services, and begin full autonomous operations. Our agreement signifies a commitment from the federal government to provide sustainable funding as AFNWA moves towards full operations in member First Nations.

This agreement also advances the new Indigenous-designed service delivery model and represents a step towards self-determination and greater control of service delivery for First Nations. Most importantly, the Framework Agreement outlines the negotiation process and responsibilities for all parties to transfer responsibility, control, and management of water and wastewater services. In essence, the Framework Agreement assures that First Nations will make all decisions regarding their water and wastewater infrastructure priorities – not the federal government.

In December 2021, AFNWA was invited to submit its 10-year operating and capital budgets to ISC for inclusion into the 2022-23 federal budget. On April 7, 2022 the federal budget included an additional $173.2 million for the AFNWA consistent with the 10–Year Business Plan

What functions must the federal government uphold following service transfer?

This remains an ongoing discussion. The federal government will continue to be a fiscal partner that provides predictable, sustained, and long-term funding to AFNWA. In addition, the federal government will continue to execute its negotiation function to advance self-determined services in areas that have not yet been transferred, and will continue to serve as a governance partner to ensure effective implementation of service transfer agreements. This role includes the monitoring of outcomes and risk-managing potential hindrances and barriers to achieve the results desired by communities. Ultimately, the federal government will continue to provide proactive support to Indigenous communities during crisis and emergencies, work in collaboration with First Nations, Inuit, and Métis to improve programs and services and continue its path to advance reconciliation.

With the Framework Agreement signed with ISC, how much funding was promised and over what time frame?

To prepare for the transfer outlined in the Framework Agreement, ISC committed to funding the two-year transition period leading to full autonomous operations. ISC provided $2.5 million to AFNWA for the 2020-21 fiscal year and $3.0 million for 2021-22.

On April 7, 2022 the federal budget included an additional $173.2 million for the AFNWA consistent with the 10-Year Business Plan

What is the background leading up to the Framework Agreement?

Since Atlantic Policy Congress developed the Clean Water Initiative in 2009, steady progress was made to determine the right approach to its governance, organizational structure, and infrastructure investment. This progress ensures AFNWA will have sustainable funding when it assumes full operations. AFNWA’s progress is recognized as the culmination of a tremendous effort by partners involving studies and engagement sessions to be where we are today.

Why is transfer of services happening now? Why did it take so long?

This process took considerable time as AFNWA and APC required multi-year analyses and community outreach process that ultimately led to approval of the organizational structure. The Full-Service Decentralized [FSD] model was approved by consensus and includes a hub-and-spoke operations approach. AFNWA will continue outreach and engagement with Wabanaki communities and organizations to ensure Indigenous customs are integrated into this new service delivery model.

AFNWA also required commitment from the federal government before moving forward. In June 2020, Marc Miller (then ISC Minister) announced, “the Government of Canada is committed to AFNWA’s long-term success”. In January 2022, AFNWA met with Minister Patty Hajdu (now Minister of ISC) to present our service delivery model and to discuss the progress towards a co-developed Service Delivery Transfer Agreement [SDTA]. The federal government and Minister also reaffirmed its commitment to AFNWA.

Has service delivery transfer been done elsewhere in Canada?

This is a first for Canada and is a significant departure from the colonial approach. Similar approaches for other services have been realized, but this is the first opportunity to realign water and wastewater service delivery in Wabanaki communities. The service transfer from ISC to AFNWA represents change in a system that has been in place for over 150 years. 

Why has it taken so long for the federal government to acknowledge the need for clean drinking water? Isn’t clean water a universal human right?

In 2015, the Government of Canada, recognized the need to ensure clean water and pledged to end all long-term drinking water advisories [LTDWA] in Indigenous communities. While it has taken years to get here, increased crises in First Nations communities revealed the water-related issues, furthering the need for committed action. While eliminating LTDWAs in communities and ensuring clean drinking water is critical, it is a part of a larger process to establish long-term, sustainable water and wastewater infrastructure on reserve.

Clean drinking water and infrastructure that is sustainable and reliable are fundamental rights that all people should enjoy. AFNWA is committed to providing quality service that reinforces these rights for member First Nations in Mi’kma’ki and Wolastoqkuk.

Will AFNWA cost more than the current way that communities’ water services are managed?

Operating costs will be higher, but communities will receive a significantly higher level of service. We also anticipate that capital funding will increase, closing the infrastructure gaps that exists in First Nations communities.

Community members will not be charged for AFNWA services, however the operations-and-maintenance [O&M] funding for water and wastewater services will be redirected to AFNWA with the approval of the member community. The transfer of O&M funding is a part of the overall agreement that would be entered into by each First Nations member and the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority.

Does Atlantic Policy Congress [APC] administer AFNWA? What was its role?

No, APC does not administer AFNWA, but was a key facilitator in helping AFNWA begin to lay the groundwork. The Atlantic First Nations Water Authority stands on its own as a not-for-profit water and wastewater utility organization.

What role did Halifax Water play?

Halifax Water had supported the APC Clean Water Initiative with expert advice including recommendations on governance and organizational structure. Workshops and meetings were held to understand the path ahead, including a governance workshop with Halifax Mayor Mike Savage and Councillor Russell Walker, who both served as directors on the Halifax Water Board.

What role did Dalhousie University play?

Dalhousie was also a key facilitator in establishing frameworks for governance and regulations to ensure high quality standards are adopted. The Centre for Water Resource Studies at Dalhousie continues to support AFNWA to establish water safety plans as it takes on operational responsibilities. 

Why haven’t all the Communities signed on to become members? Is there an opportunity for them to join as the authority proceeds?

There are numerous reasons as to why all communities have not signed on as members, and the decision ultimately rests with each First Nations community. Some communities are reluctant to join AFNWA because of previous unfulfilled promises from the federal government. Other communities may not join because they do not feel represented by AFNWA, or they simply wish to maintain their existing water and wastewater service delivery relationship with the ISC. However, AFNWA does believe that most communities will join once they see the merits of a utility owned and controlled by First Nations. First Nations communities are encouraged to join AFNWA now, and are always welcome to join in the future as AFNWA was designed to accommodate growth.