Water Voices – Stephen Sauder (National)
Contact: Stephen Sauder firstname.lastname@example.org (Water Hackathon hack)
Water Voices is composed of three inter-related components that work together to engage, promote, and improve First Nation and aboriginal access to water and sanitation. The innovative use of technology by Water Voices addresses a global need to enhance geo-spatial water data.
In the previous two RHoK’s we’ve worked with amazing developers in Montreal and Toronto. The technical infrastructure that allows SMS to be geo-coded and then tweeted to relevant politicians and media is built. As well we have wicked cool graphic design. We need help in putting all the pieces together.
Water Voices is looking to RHoK to help with:
- VOICE to SMS integration ‘roughly 60 percent of First Nation reserves being targeted do not have cellular coverage’ so this piece would provide coverage to 100 percent of communities!
- Data Management – we have an incredible amount of previously governmentally silo’d data
- Open source CMS
Water Voices raises awareness and provides solutions to water and sanitations challenges through innovative fusions of data, appropriate technology, and community engagement. The mission of Water Voices is to drive innovative low-cost solutions to improve access to water and wastewater. The project is composed of three components that work together to engage, promote, and improve aboriginal access to water and sanitation. 1) The community engagement tool takes text and voice messages from community members experiencing water quality challenges, geocodes their location, and tweets them out to relevant politicians and local media. 2) The comprehensive database powers the engagement tool, but also serves as a centralized repository for an unprecedented amount of data that can be geospatially analyzed and manipulated for solutions. 3) The education module aims to improve water education through low-cost testing, interventions, and mapping exercises.
Water is the one natural resource that every living being needs for survival. While it is exciting to see an increased awareness in water and sanitation issues across Canada, there is still a genuine water crisis facing First Nation communities that needs attention. As of January 31, 2012 there were 131 First Nation communities under some type of drinking water advisory, and that just scratches the surface. To address these advisories, and other water and sanitation-related issues in First Nation communities, we have developed the Water Voices project.
The Canadian government has made it a priority to not formally acknowledge water as a human right (Boyd 2011). The Canadian constitution does not explicitly mention a right to water nor has there been any federal legislation or documented Canadian court case granting it (Boyd 2011). However, under the Canadian constitution all citizens are afforded
“The right to life liberty and security of the person (under section 7 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms Charter], the right to equality (under section 15 of the Charter], and the federal and provincial governments commitment to providing essential public services of reasonable quality to all Canadians (under section 36 of the Constitution)(Boyd 2011).”
These protections under the constitution provide every Canadian citizen (First Nations included) the inherent right to water, as water is essential to survival. In Canada all but a few rural communities are provided with access to safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. First Nation Reserves are those communities without ‘essential public services of reasonable quality’ and this represents failure of the federal government (Boyd 2011).
The Federal government provides guidelines on drinking water standards, as well as monitoring programs, nationally. Provincial governments maintain responsibility of water and wastewater through legislation and laws governing the provision and distribution of it. Ultimately, local municipalities, empowered by the provinces, hold the responsibility for the provision of water and wastewater treatment (Government of Canada 2011). This is the situation for Canadians that have the privilege of being protected and serviced by municipal water and wastewater utilities supported by their provinces.
First Nations Reserves
The situation for Canada’s First Nations population is far grimmer. First Nations reserves in Canada are not serviced by the same legislation, infrastructure, or utilities. The provision of water and wastewater treatment on reserves exist in a political grey zone where Provincial Governments defer water provisions on reserves to the Federal Government who assume, but do not embrace, responsibility. “It is of interest to note that Aboriginal Peoples are the only population group in Canada that is dependent on federal jurisdiction and government for water treatment and delivery policies and programs”(McCullough 2011).
Federal responsibility for water on reserves is distributed between three departments, Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada (AANDC), Health Canada, and Environment Canada. However, “There are no federal regulations to apply to First Nations drinking water systems” (McCullough 2011). AANDC provides funding (up to 80 % of total cost) to First Nations reserves that meet stringent guidelines. Health Canada is tasked with providing guidelines and monitoring, they have no enforcement or inspection authority (McCullough 2011). Environment Canada’s responsibilities pertain mainly to source water protection and the disposal of wastewater into federal water bodies.
While the protocols, Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, and procedures outline requirements for operation of First Nations water and wastewater systems, these standards cannot be legally enforced. The provinces have regulations related to water but these do not apply on reserve land. As a result, there is a regulatory gap between communities on reserve and those communities off reserve. Legislation is required in order to create a legal basis for compliance and enforcement on reserve (INAC 2011).
From 2006 – 2010 INAC (AANC) has provided $1.25 billion to First Nations reserves for water and wastewater infrastructure in First Nations (INAC 2011). “The general perception on funding is that much has been provided, but little has been gained (McCullough 2011). The bottom line is that the Federal government has no legally enforceable responsibility to provide water and wastewater services to First Nations reserves.
 On May 18th 2011 the department of Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, become Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. This was done to make the title more inclusive.
The Water Voices project enables communication and action around water challenges for aboriginal groups across Canada and other communities globally, by empowering them to highlight water-related problems and work towards solving them. The database will create a resource to bridge the gap between knowledge and solutions by centralizing relevant data. The water education module will encourage students to test water quality and embrace water solutions, enabling them to learn more about the importance of water as a resource and the challenges affecting their communities and encourage them to make changes.
This is the third hackathon Water Voices is participating in. Each one brings new challenges and new solutions. We are hoping to have the interface functioning as well as a solution for database management.