By Calvi Leon
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A decision to extend the Lake Huron water supply system to a London-area First Nation earned the full support of water board members on Thursday.
The Lake Huron Water Supply System management board unanimously voted to endorse a request by Oneida Nation of the Thames to connect to the water supply system, making it the first London-area First Nation to join one of the region’s two water supply systems.
“It’s exciting to hear our local First Nation is one of the first in the area to pursue this type of partnership,” said Adrian Chrisjohn, chief of Oneida Nation of the Thames, southwest of London.
“It’s long overdue,” he said.
The request was submitted by the First Nation after it conducted a water feasibility report that evaluated options to improve its water supply and address community needs over the next 20 years.
Oneida Nation of the Thames, located about 30 kilometres southwest of London, has been under a boil-water advisory since 2019, and intermittently before then.
“This has been a high priority for our senior management staff and those involved with the water feasibility study,” Chrisjohn said.
The report, conducted with First Nations Engineering Ltd., estimates the costs to extend and connect the existing Lake Huron water pipeline would amount to $20.6 million, something Chrisjohn hopes Indigenous Services Canada will fund.
Thursday’s endorsement allows the First Nation to move forward with its funding application to the federal government agency, as well as negotiations for a water supply agreement, and eventually, plans for the design, construction and operation of the water system.
“I think it’s a priority for everyone that all communities in Canada have access to safe drinking water,” said London city councillor Michael van Holst, who chairs the board.
Both the Lake Huron and Elgin water supply systems have capacity, he said. “It makes a lot of sense that Oneida Nation of the Thames be able to take advantage of that as well,” van Holst said.
The Lake Huron Primary Water Supply System, whose treatment plant is north of Grand Bend on Lake Huron, has a capacity of 340 million litres a day. The plant supplies water to 400,000 residents in Bluewater, South Huron, Lambton Shores, North Middlesex, Lucan Biddulph, Middlesex Centre, Strathroy Caradoc, London, and pending next steps, those at Oneida Nation of the Thames.
Steve Hillier, board member and London city councillor, said he was “thrilled” when he first learned of the First Nation’s request, and he hopes others will follow suit.
“We need co-operation like this everywhere,” he said. “I’m hoping this is just a little tiny ripple and it spreads across all the water boards.”
Calvi Leon is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the LONDON FREE PRESS. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.