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‘Too bets`huna: We live by water’ — Remote village celebrates return of drinking water after 20 years

People living in the Lhoosk’uz Dené village will no longer be bringing in bottled water from Quesnel
Janish Patel from AWS Water Solutions inspects the equipment. AWS partnered with UBC to provide the water plant. (UBC Submitted Photo)

A clean glass of drinking water is something most Canadians take for granted, and after decades without, a small village west of Quesnel is finally able to enjoy it for themselves.

For the past 20 years, 50 Lhoosk’uz Dené community members have relied on bottled water, but that has changed after a partnership with the University of British Columbia and RES’EAU-WaterNET.

A water treatment plant installed in May 2021 came fully online July 13. The community has been monitoring the output to ensure the water is safe.

“We had to do things differently. And now, what was just a dream many years ago is reality,” said Chief Liliane Squinas in a UBC news release.

READ MORE: From bottled water to tap: Lhoosk’uz Dené Nation finds solution to water troubles

Wells drilled around the community in 2008 to provide water were not able to meet drinking water standards. Wells drilled in 2017 were also inadequate, and at times infected with E. coli bacteria.

“We’re so off-grid that many people don’t even know where we are. Even the nearest hospital is three hours away,” Squinas said. “If the system breaks down, it’s not as simple as going to the nearest hardware store for replacement parts.”

The water is treated using ultraviolet light and chlorine, to ensure there are no harmful bacteria. The system was designed specifically for the community by a UBC team headed by chemical engineering professor Madjid Mohseni.

He said the system had to be simple and robust due to the remote nature of the village.

“The whole process wasn’t much about technology,” Mohseni said. “The technology is a very important piece, but it was more about the process of engaging the community and getting them to say what they wanted to have and providing constant input and feedback to us towards a solution they can be proud of and take ownership of.”

Community members have been trained to operate and maintain the plant.

Mohseni has been involved with the project since 2014. He recalls when seven undergrad students took a trip to the community and didn’t even want to shower because the water looked so dirty. It was a far cry from the crystal clear water he enjoyed on the 13th.

“The safety of the water, making sure it’s free of microbes, minerals and contaminants is definitely one very key aspect from a health point of view,” Mohseni said. “At the same time from the community perspective, aesthetic quality is very important. The water needs to taste good, it needs to be palatable, it needs to look good… What we have now in place does not compromise any of those things.”

Glasses engraved with the phrase ‘Too bets`huna,’ (We live by water) were made by band manager Brenda Thomas to celebrate the treatment plant opening.

“As the Elders took their first sips, I had to hold back tears as the reality hit me,” she said. “We’d done it, after years of waiting, after hundreds of conference calls and numerous forest fires and despite being in the middle of a pandemic. We were resilient and persevered.”

More than six million Canadians do not have access to clean drinking water, with many living in remote Indigenous communities.

READ MORE: Investigation: Lead in some Canadian water worse than Flint

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