Frequently Asked Questions

General Questions

What is the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority?

The Atlantic First Nations Water Authority (AFNWA) is a notforprofit 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 participation includes:

  • First Nations control and capacity building: AFNWA represents the transfer of responsibility from Indigenous Services Canada(ISC) to First Nations. Since AFNWA is owned and operated by First Nations, it will generate long-term employment and career development for Indigenous people in the water and wastewater sector. AFNWA employees are supported with training and career opportunities with fair and competitive wages.
  • Sustainable funding: First Nations under AFNWA will no longer be subject to conditional 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 taking on all liability associated with water and wastewater services. Allowing AFNWA to assume the responsibilities enable Chiefs and Councils to focus on other priorities and issues facing the community.
  • Risk reduction: AFNWA will apply the best standard 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.
  • 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.

Will AFNWA affect jobs in my community?

AFNWA’s Board of Directors (BOD) resolved that all First Nations Operators will be offered employment at the time of transfer. These Operators will be supported with further training and career opportunities. Our goal is to build First Nations capacity.

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 40 people by Spring 2022, with the majority being First Nations, for positions including engineers, superintendents, operators, technologists, human resources, and accounting. In addition to First Nations employment, more hiring opportunities will arise for contractors, suppliers, and support services. AFNWA supports First Nations capacity development including training and career opportunities for younger generations.

What type of service enhancements will AFNWA undertake?

AFNWA is 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. Aside from the province of Alberta, it has not been developed extensively in Canada or First Nations communities. This approach ensures focus 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.

What is the background leading up to the Framework Agreement?

Since the Clean Water Initiative was developed through APC in 2010, steady progress was made to determine the right approach to governance, organizational structure, and infrastructure investment. This progress ensures AFNWA will have sustainable funding when it assumes full operations. It is the culmination of a tremendous effort through many studies and engagement to get to where we are today.

Why did it take so long?

It took considerable time as AFNWA and APC conducted a multi-year analysis and dialogue process through community engagements that ultimately led to approval of the organizational structure, including its operations hub-and-spoke delivery model. AFNWA will continue engaging Indigenous communities and organizations so that First Nations’ customs are integrated into this new service delivery model. AFNWA also needed confirmation like the announcement from ISC Minister Marc Miller in June 2020 that the “Government of Canada is committed to AFNWA’s long-term success.”

Has this been done elsewhere in Canada?

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

Why has it taken so long for the Government of Canada to acknowledge the need for clean drinking water?

The Government of Canada in 2015 recognized the need and acted out of necessity and a promise. While it has taken years to get here, increased crises in First Nations communities brought the issues to a head, furthering the need for committed action.

Does Atlantic Policy Congress (APC) administer AFNWA?

No, but APC played a key role as facilitator to get us started by laying the groundwork. AFNWA stands on its own as a corporate water and wastewater utility.

What role did Halifax Water play?

 Halifax Water has supported the 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 Mayor Mike Savage and Councillor Russell Walker, who both served on the Halifax Water Board.

What role did Dalhousie University play?

Dalhousie played a key facilitation role to establish a framework for governance and regulations to ensure high quality standards are adopted. They continue to support AFNWA to establish water safety plans as the utility takes on operational responsibilities.

Why is the interim CEO non-Indigenous?

Carl Yates, M.A.Sc., P.Eng., was chosen as an interim CEO due to his extensive experience with governance, organizational structuring, and water and wastewater service delivery. A professional engineer with over 35 years experience, he has led major mergers in the past with Halifax Water, and this experience will bode well for the Atlantic First Nations Water Authority. AFNWA expects that its next CEO will be Indigenous.

Why didn’t all the communities sign on?

Some are reluctant due to many previous unfulfilled promises by the federal government in the past. Communities are encouraged to join now but are always welcome to join in the future as AFNWA is designed to accommodate growth. AFNWA believes that most will join once they see the merits of a utility owned and controlled by First Nations, especially now that the federal government has now committed 100% of the funding in December 2020.

What are the next steps?

AFNWA has a Transition Implementation Plan to fully operationalize by Spring 2022. Many steps were taken to arrive at this stage including engagement with First Nations leaders, Operators, and communities for feedback on approach and understanding of community needs. Key activities in the 2021-22 fiscal year include hiring of staff, development of an Asset Management Plan and completion of a Ten-Year Business Plan as the basis for long-term funding from the federal government.