It came to light at a recent Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) board meeting that the Nautley Indian Reserve (Nadleh Whut’en First Nation), just east of Fraser Lake, has a sewage containment issue.
The septic field on the reserve is located downstream of Fraser Lake on the shores of the Nautley River. The Nautley river is a short channel connecting Fraser Lake to the Nechacko River.
Ken Nooski, maintenance manager on the reserve, is concerned about greywater that has been leaking into the Nechako River from the reserve’s sewage treatment facility.
“We’ve got a small leak,” said Nooski. “We’ve got some greywater going into the Nechako River.”
“We’ve been on it for years and years,” he said. “We’ve tried to get Indian Affairs to give us some funding to fix it.”
The reserve’s sewage treatment operates through septic leaching, a system where perforated, underground pipes allow naturally treated and pathogen-deactivitated waste to re-enter the environment.
Northern Health (NH) is aware of the issue, but it is outside their jurisdiction.
“The leaking system is on First Nations land where Northern Health does not have jurisdiction,” said Eryn Collins, NH spokesperson.
Collins added that NH was advised that the leak was minor and that steps were being taken to deal with the issue.
According to Nooski, the band has been pumping out the septic holding tanks frequently to prevent overflow from going into the river.
But pumping cannot be a long-term solution.
“The ground is saturated,” Nooski speculated. “The holding tank goes out into the field, but I think the ground is past its life. The water doesn’t seep into the ground like it’s supposed to.”
On May 17, 2013, an unidentified member of the Nadleh Whut’en First Nation notified Emergency Management BC (EMBC) that a sewage leak was observable. The EMBC immediately notified the Ministry of Environment, RDBN, and Aboriginal and Northern Development Canada (AANDC) .
The RDBN regards the issue to be subject to federal jurisdiction, but they did refer the matter to NH. But NH, as noted earlier, also has no jurisdiction in the matter.
Nooski expressed frustration at the slowness of response to the reserves sewage treatment problems.
“This has been ongoing for years,” Nooski added. “It’s a serious thing, especially the way we value the water”
“We’ve been studied to death,” he said. “They dig holes, they do percolation [soil] tests, but the ground is saturated.”
The Ministry of Environment referred the matter to AANDC.
According to the AANDC, $173,000 has been provided for ‘feasibility studies to review and assess sewage maintenance problems at Nadleh Whut’en First Nation,’ although at press time it is not clear if the money has already been used to complete a study or if studies are ongoing.
On June 13, 2013, an AANDC spokesperson said there is no leak of septic fluids into the Nautley River, and referred the matter to Environment Canada. As noted earlier, the Nadleh Whut’en have been pumping the holding tanks to prevent overflow.
Environment Canada was not available for response at press time.
It is not clear when – or if – waste water under federal jurisdiction, which travels downstream, becomes a regional and provincial concern.