Water lawsuit

The OKIB's 2017-18 annual report, an image from which is shown here, says the band has developed a master water plan. The band is suing Ottawa for not providing the money needed to upgrade the water systems.

The Vernon-based Okanagan Indian Band is suing the federal government over what it says is Ottawa's failure to improve water quality on the reserve.

Only one of the band's seven water systems have been upgraded despite nine years of talks between the OKIB and the federal government.

"We have lost faith in a system I would describe as negligent," Chief Byron Louis said in a release. "We are stuck in limbo between federal policy that underfunds our system and provincial infrastructure resources we cannot access."

The band's largest water system is under a 'Do Not Consume' order, Louis says, and there's ongoing concern about the quality of the water across the reserve.

"The federal government has put the lives of our people at risk," Louis said. "We are concerned it will take a crisis like a death or a sickness from contamination before the federal government takes any action - other than constant delay."

Louis says the suit, filed in Federal Court, asks for a ruling that First Nations people have the same access to safe drinking water as other Canadians. Such a ruling, he says, would compel the federal government to come forward with the necessary funding to improve the water systems.

In 2015, the Liberal government pledged to end the 105 long-term boil water advisories that then existed on First Nations reserves within five years through the spending of $1.8 billion.

Eighty-seven of those advisories have been rescinded, according to Indigenous Services Canada's website. But new advisories have been issued, so there are still 56-long drinking water advisories still in place in Indigenous communities.

The website does not show any information for water issues concerning the OKIB.

The federal government says it is on track to eliminate all long-term drinking water advisories by March 2021. The process is complex, Indigenous Services Canada says, involving feasibility studies, design work, interim repairs, permanent repairs, new infrastructure, training of staff, and monitoring of equipment.

Covering 26,300 acres in the Central and North Okanagan, the OKIB has about 2,000 members.

The band's 2017-18 annual report reads, in part, "Considerable time was invested in the creation of a master water plan, and once accepted by council, it will allow the Band to seek the required infrastructure funding so clean water is available from one end of the community to the other."