Ahousaht kept its good humour in place during a six-day interruption to its water supply

Water restored in Ahousaht

Hard work from residents, support from neighbours carries remote Vancouver Island community through six days without a potable water supply

  • Wed Dec 21st, 2016 7:00pm
  • News

A ruptured pipe that cut Ahousaht off from its water supply on Friday has been fixed, according to Emergency Management B.C.

The remote First Nation spent nearly six full days without clean water after the pipe broke at the base of the community’s water treatment plant. Ahousaht staff and volunteers worked tirelessly to fix the break, which occurred below sea level adding complications to the efforts.

The pipe was fixed and potable running water was restored around 4 p.m. on Wednesday.

“We are happy to report that the waterline is now repaired,” wrote Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness Naomi Yamamoto in an email to the Westerly News. Jubilant posts on Ahousaht’s community Facebook page corroborated the good news.

“I am so happy for the volunteers who worked endlessly to get our water situation fixed,” Marion Campbell posted on the Ahousaht Nation public Facebook group page. “There are so many people to thank, donations of water (which will still be needed until we get a clearance to use the water for consumption), volunteers delivering water to Tofino and getting it sent to Ahousaht and all those who delivered to homes.

“Thanks for taking care of the elders, those with medical needs and pregnant women. I am so proud to be from such a strong community! I am proud of all our relatives and friends who helped us with the water donations. I love home! Happy Holidays everyone!”

Water donations are still needed as the Nation remains on a boil water advisory. And there certainly hasn’t been a lack of helping hands being offered so far. Tofino, Ucluelet and the Ucluelet First Nation were among those rallying to help their Ahousaht neighbours.

Ucluelet First Nation president Les Doiron said he received a crisis call from Ahousaht’s Patti Charleson shortly after the break occurred and immediately got his team together to assist.

“We have a stockpile of water for our people, so we swung into action and immediately loaded the trucks up and delivered them to the dock and water taxis in Tofino,” Doiron told the Westerly adding the Nation delivered roughly 70, 18-litre, jugs.

Doiron said he then called his friend Randy Johnson of Buy-Low Foods in Port Alberni who immediately offered additional support.

“I explained the situation to him and he donated 30 [18-litre] bottles for no charge,” Doiron said of Johnson. “So, we picked those up and brought those out.”

Doiron said Buy-Low also donated 1,000 individual bottles of water, which the Ucluelet First Nation team picked up in Port Alberni and delivered to Tofino’s dock to be taken to Ahousaht.

Doiron said helping out a neighbour is an automatic response on the West Coast.

“It’s an automatic reaction,” Ucluelet mayor Dianne St. Jacques told the Westerly News. “That’s what we do. We’re neighbours out here and we support each other. Our location puts us in a situation where we’re the support group for each other.”

Tofino mayor Josie Osborne said she and her district staff are also in close communication with Ahousaht “to offer anything we can.”

“It’s a critical need that suddenly arises. You do everything you can to help people have one of the most basic necessities of life: potable water…That’s part of the importance of being a good neighbour. If we had an emergency we would rely on our neighbours for help.”

Tofino set up a warming centre at its community hall over the weekend to welcome Ahousaht elders and other community members who had been evacuated but that centre was not activated as the Tin Wis Resort stepped in to assist.

Osborne said the Ahousaht crisis has shed light on the need for stronger emergency coordination across the Coast and said the details about how emergency response is supposed to happen are currently unclear.

“I know that a task number has been issued by EMBC and all of that, but I don’t know enough about the relationship between the different levels of government and, frankly, it’s something that I should know better and that we should all know better,” she said.

Meanwhile, the area’s member of B.C.’s Legislative Assembly is flabbergasted that the province didn’t step in to help out yet.

Alberni-Pacific Rim MLA Scott Fraser said he has been trying to convince B.C.’s Minister of State for Emergency Preparedness Naomi Yamamoto to shed some support onto the remote First Nation since Monday.  He said the ministry did not get back to him until Tuesday afternoon and advised him the issue was a federal one under the umbrella of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada, which was an answer he did not find adequate.

“It’s not like INAC has a team to respond to anything. INAC is almost a concept…It’s an amorphous ministry in Ottawa. They don’t have boots on the ground,” he said.“It may well be on reserve, which may well be a federal authority, but the province has to deal with this as an emergency. They should not be trying to figure out whose jurisdiction this is. They should just help and, once the dust is settled, they can figure out who’s going to pay the bill. That’s just being good government and taking care of people in the province whether they’re on reserve or not.”

He added Ahousaht deserves better than to see their current crisis slip through jurisdictional cracks and noted the community played a heroic role during the rescue efforts of the Leviathan II tragedy in October 2015.

“I think back to how Ahousaht responded to an emergency when the Leviathan II sank. I never ever heard anything from Ahousaht saying well that’s a federal responsibility, or that’s a whatever, they just did it. They came to the assistance of those that needed it,” he said.

In an emailed response to the Westerly News, Minister Yamamoto said the province is playing a supporting role in the federal government’s efforts.

“The lead agencies for this are the federal government through Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada and the First Nations Health Authority,” she wrote.

“The Province continues to offer support to the Ahousaht First Nation in a coordinating role. It’s important to note that the community has enough water on site for one year and this was not declared as an emergency.”

She said EMBC supported Ahousaht’s members by helping to set up a warming centre in Tofino to welcome evacuees, as well as providing executive level coordination and ongoing monitoring of the situation.

“EMBC senior staff have been in contact with the community to ensure there are no unmet needs,” she wrote.

Anyone willing to donate should contact Ahousaht’s Patti Charleson at 250-670-9531 or aboo_19@msn.com.

— Andrew Bailey Westerly News