Frequently Asked Questions

Operations Questions

What is the operational relationship between Band Council and AFNWA?

AFNWA is owned by the communities, who each have a vote on Water Authority items brought forward at the Annual General Meeting.

Since AFNWA is a not-for-profit corporation, there is one vote per community so that each member has an equal opportunity to voice their ideas or concerns. At least two-thirds (2/3) of the AFNWA Board consists of First Nations Chiefs.

How does the AFNWA assure that it is the only entity that will be accessing, changing, and managing the water and wastewater systems?

By transferring the responsibility for water and wastewater assets to AFNWA, the organization will have the right to operate and maintain water and wastewater systems on behalf of communities. As such, AFNWA will have exclusive responsibility for the infrastructure, and reducing community liability to maintain clean and safe drinking water and wastewater, while also protecting the public and surrounding environment from degradation.

Who do the Operators report to within the AFNWA structure?

Operators will report to Hub Supervisors who, in turn, will report to the Superintendent of Operations. They will also be supported by the Manager of Operations, Superintendent of Technical Services, Operations Engineer, and the AFNWA Engineering Department.

What is the process to order replacement parts when things break down?

In the event of an emergency, the Operations Department will be given full authorization to make repairs as efficiently and expeditiously as possible.

For planned work, the AFNWA Procurement Policy is in place to address purchasing equipment or parts.

It is expected that inventory for key parts, equipment, and chemicals will be stored in hub communities and headquarters.

Who will be the regulator for water and wastewater?

The wastewater regulator is Environment and Climate Change Canada [ECCC], who currently administers the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations [WSER]. The oversight agency for drinking water is in the final stages of development. 

Will Operators have backup staff to fill-in for them when they go on leave for training, sickness, or vacation?

AFNWA will provide backup staff so Operators are able to take time off for illness, vacation, training, or conferences.

This will be supported by other operations staff and a more robust and integrated SCADA system that can provide supplemental oversight to facility and system operations, and adjustment and control of equipment, and alarm annunciation.

Who will be the contact for septic tank pump-outs, and issues with individual wells if the Operator is not a Band employee?

This will depend on whether the Band has staff that could perform this role. AFNWA could provide this as an added service and charge a nominal fee to the Band, at the discretion of each of the participating communities.

Funding for private wells and septic systems is currently administered through a different program than central water and wastewater systems.

AFNWA has only been given a funded mandate to operate, maintain, and upgrade central water and wastewater infrastructure on reserve lands.

What if a community receives rapid housing budget funding and the water and wastewater systems do not have capacity?

The AFNWA and communities will work together to identify and plan for community growth. If needs are identified, the facilitation of any growth projects will be reviewed by the Implementation Committee on a case-by-case basis. However, eligible water and wastewater infrastructure associated with community growth projects will be considered for funding by ISC, through new or existing programs, as well as the First Nations Infrastructure Investment Plans, based on funding availability. The community, the AFNWA, and ISC will collaborate to support the communities’ water and wastewater infrastructure development needs.

What if a community’s water or wastewater system has issues post transition? Who is the point of contact?

The AFNWA will be responsible and has long term funding for upgrading, operating, and maintaining community water and wastewater systems. Should there be an emergency related to the water and wastewater systems, AFNWA will coordinate with appropriate partners, as required.

Communities have developed strong working relationships with ISC-Regional Office engineers. Do the ISC Regional Office engineers no longer have a role in participating communities?

With the exception of community growth projects (water and wastewater servicing for new homes and subdivisions), the ISC regional office does not have a technical role for its engineers in the AFNWA member communities in relation to water and wastewater assets. The signing of the Framework Agreement in June 2020 marked the beginning of the interim operations phase for the AFNWA. Throughout this phase, the AFNWA has been working towards building robust operational capacity. The ISC regional office will continue to support all other community infrastructure and remains the first point of contract with communities.

Communities have several ongoing projects that could be impacted by the transfer to the AFNWA. How are these projects being managed? Who is responsible for overseeing the completion of these projects?

The Implementation Committee has been appointed to facilitate the successful implementation of the Service Delivery Transfer Agreement  (STDA) by providing direct support, strategic direction, and senior leadership. A Master Project List is being developed for all projects during this transition period and is overseen by the Implementation Committee.

Will the AFNWA be able to coordinate with road projects for efficiencies when possible?

Yes. The AFNWA has the budget flexibility to move forward or delay related water and wastewater projects (e.g. water main and collection piping) to coincide with planned road work to ensure efficiency. This work will be coordinated through the AFNWA’s Planning and Development Engineer. There will be a need to coordinate distribution/collection piping projects with road re-construction projects. The implementation of a Utility Coordinating Committee will be initiated to serve as a forum for the coordination of projects.

Who pays to service community facilities such as schools and other infrastructure that require water and wastewater services?

The AFNWA, through its Planning and Development Engineer, will work with communities as they plan growth projects like a new school, for example, to ensure system capacity to deliver service; however, the cost for servicing community growth will be considered by ISC through new or existing programs and the First Nations Infrastructure Investment Plans.

Regarding emergency management, who responds to natural and man-made disasters?

The AFNWA Staff are trained in the Incident Command System to respond to water and wastewater related emergencies. The AFNWA will work with ISC’s Emergency Management and Environmental Public Health Teams, the implicated province, and the First Nation’s Emergency Management Officer to ensure coordination on larger emergency responses, where warranted, for example, when a storm results in a power and/or communications disruption within the community. Roles and responsibilities of agencies should be coordinated through established protocols.

The Service Delivery Transfer Agreement (SDTA) also includes a provision where ISC could provide additional funding if assets are damaged due to natural disasters or other similar events.

What is the relationship between the AFNWA and ISC for water quality and other public health considerations for water and wastewater?

The AFNWA has developed an Interim Oversight Framework for water and wastewater quality standards in the absence of federal drinking water quality regulations that cover First Nation reserves. The Interim Oversight Framework closely follows the Nova Scotia Treatment Standards for Municipal Drinking Water Systems. Wastewater compliance remains regulated through the Fisheries Act by Environment and Climate Change Canada. ISC’s Environmental Public Health Officers (EPHOs) will continue to play a key role in Environmental Public Health in the participating communities and will have a close relationship with the AFNWA team. Both the AFNWA and ISC will continue collaboration through working groups comprised of the AFNWA Engineering and Operations with EPHOs from ISC, to ensure that public health and safety measures are in place.

Will environment and lands be affected by the AFNWA-led projects in member communities?

The AFNWA will provide the highest quality service while minimizing disruption to environment and lands, and be in adherence to Indigenous values. The AFNWA’s land and environment procedures are defined within the permits signed with each participating community. All new projects initiated in communities by the AFNWA will continue to follow the ISC Environmental Review Process, to satisfy the requirements of the Impact Assessment Act for projects on reserve lands.

Will there be any change in the Annual Performance Inspection (API) process?

Currently, ISC performs an on-site Annual Performance Inspection (API) of each centralized, ISC-funded water and wastewater system to review the system risks annually. Post-service transfer of the water and wastewater assets to the AFNWA, ISC will no longer perform APIs on the systems. The AFNWA will develop their own system risk inspections and characterization to ensure continuity. The AFNWA is currently reviewing the ISC API process for consideration.

What is the AFNWA doing regarding individual wells and septic tanks?

The AFNWA is developing a database for individual wells and septic systems for member communities to determine the number and location of systems within main reserve lands. The database is expected to be completed by the end of 2023 with the cooperation of member communities. The AFNWA is also engaging directly with ISC to advocate that the funding of wells and septic systems is included in the new Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act.

How will service requests of community members with individual wells and septic tanks be handled by the AFNWA?

The AFNWA staff will coordinate requests for maintenance on individual wells and septic systems on main reserve lands and cover some costs for third party activities such as the pumping of septic tanks. ISC Environmental Public Health Officers will work with the AFNWA, providing recommendations on water quality for individual wells, as well as septic systems including malfunction and replacement of systems, and new housing construction requiring an individual well and septic system.

Does the AFNWA have a budget to service wells and septic tanks? Who pays for the basic maintenance and repairs?

The amount of funds available for wells and septic tanks for all member communities has been capped at $250,000 annually in recognition that the funding of private wells and septic systems is an unfunded mandate for the AFNWA. This is, in part, because ISC currently does not fund decentralized systems that are not managed centrally by the First Nation. Any of the AFNWA funding available will be shared on a fair and equitable basis and prorated to each community based on the number of individual wells and septic systems on main reserve lands.

Will the AFNWA pay for upgrades to individual wells and septic systems?

The AFNWA funding does NOT include funds for any capital upgrades to individual wells and septic systems, which will remain the responsibility of each Band. The AFNWA wasn’t funded for individual wells and septic systems because the (formerly) Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (now ISC) Protocol for Decentralised Water and Wastewater Systems in First Nations Communities outlines that ISC does not fund decentralized systems that are not band-managed. A band-managed system is one that is managed and operated by a band, by a band-owned utility, or by a qualified third party operating under contract to the band. If systems were to qualify for funding from ISC, they would have to be in compliance with this protocol.

Is there a contact number for our community members, or band staff, to call for emergencies?

The AFNWA currently has an emergency number, (902) 603-0312, which will involve a standby rotation of Operators to be available 24/7 to respond to emergencies. Service area supervisors can be reached directly during regular business hours.

What does it mean if a First Nation who receives water and wastewater services from a neighboring municipality joins the AFNWA?

If a nearby municipality supplies the First Nation with treated water or receives its wastewater under a Municipal Type Service Agreement , those communities can still become members of the AFNWA. The AFNWA will sign new agreements with the municipalities for water and wastewater services and it will then be the AFNWA’s responsibility to manage the relationship with the municipality on the First Nation’s behalf.  Funding for the other services the community receives (garbage removal, fire protection, etc.) will remain between the Band and the municipality.