Feds to fund drinking water pipeline to Oneida of the Thames First Nation

File photo courtesy of (© Can Stock Photo / fullempty)

The federal government is preparing to put funding in place that will bring clean drinking water to Oneida Nation of the Thames after a three-year boil water advisory.

On Monday, Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said she hopes a deal to fund a proposed 18-kilometre pipeline from a connection point near Mt. Brydges to Oneida Nation of the Thames will be signed sometime this spring, allowing construction to begin shortly after.

“This is a very, very important next step, in this case, it’s great to see participation and collaboration of the municipality,” Hajdu said on Monday.

Oneida First Nation leaders have worked out an agreement with the Lake Huron Primary Water Supply System, which supplies water to several municipalities in southwestern Ontario, to bring treated Lake Huron water to Oneida. The agreement still needs to be signed by the feds, and funds secured. It is not yet clear how much funding will be provided, though the cost to upgrade the First Nation’s community water system and install the pipeline is estimated at around $57-million.

Hajdu said the government hasn’t settled on what the final price tag will be, but money has been set aside for the work.

“The federal government will pay for the water access and this project,” Hajdu said. “We’re committed to making sure Oneida of the Thames will have a water supply. But there are a number of design elements and choices that need to be made by the community.”

Oneida was placed under a state of emergency in mid-December due to an all-time low in water levels. As a result, residents were told to conserve water and cease all non-essential use. While the state of emergency remains in place, the need to conserve was called off earlier this month as levels have gone from critically low to extremely high. A boil-water advisory issued in October of 2019 remains in effect.

“We’re hoping that we’re going to see some movement this spring,” Hajdu said when asked about timing. “We may be able to see the construction of the pipeline begin this spring. When people in Onieda of the Thames see the work start to happen, I’m sure the excitement will grow.”

-With files from Craig Needles and Miranda Chant