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EPCOR helping federal government with clean water projects on First Nations

FILE - EPCOR's building in downtown Edmonton.
FILE - EPCOR's building in downtown Edmonton. Global News

As the federal government works to improve drinking water on First Nations, it has reached out to Edmonton-based EPCOR looking for solutions.

EPCOR’s vice-president of commercial services confirms the company is looking at business models they can explore with the feds, but also individual First Nations.

“That’s where we are now, starting to see how best we can be involved,” Steve Stanley said about the early stage discussions that are underway.

READ MORE: Crumbling roads, no water service prompt local state of emergency on Alberta First Nation

EPCOR currently provides treated water through the Edmonton regional system to Enoch Cree Nation, and are expanding distribution to the Paul First Nation and Alexis Nakota Sioux. Stanley said they’re getting some input from specific First Nations as they consider what models they’ll pursue.

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Stanley said whatever they come up with, it won’t be a top down approach, telling them what they need.

“That’s maybe a bit of a challenge why some of the things to date haven’t worked very well.”

Instead it’ll be pursued as a partnership.

Federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi has also been involved.

“He’s asked a little bit about our interest in doing that,” Stanley said. “That’s one of the things that’s kind of precipitated us working on this file to see how we think we can best be involved in trying to address the challenge.”

READ MORE: Federal government focuses on improving drinking water at Alberta First Nation

So far EPCOR has had limited participation, mostly in water distribution, but they did have a 10-year period in and around Port Hardy, British Columbia on a federal contract, providing training in operations.

Treaty 6 Grand Chief Willie Littlechild welcomes the opportunity to have a “working relationship with the federal government along with corporations.”

“Any corporation that has been involved with any kind of development closer or near or on Indigenous territory, like a reserve for example for oil and gas development or whatever, I think there’s an obligation to help us try to cleanup the water, or cleanup the area that’s been damaged.”

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Littlechild said there are lakes that they used to fish in, that they can’t anymore.

“I think the new technology of course is a real blessing today. Where there’s corporations like Epcor that can take in the water, clean it, then recycle it and bring it back out that’s drinkable. That’s the opportunity that we have going forward to work with companies like that so that we can actually purify our water again.”

READ MORE: First Nations ‘living in Third World conditions’ as communities endure water advisories

On Friday the federal government announced a clean water project with Treaty 3 First Nations in Ontario, a move applauded by Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson.

“Water infrastructure is an acute need on First Nations and I applaud the federal government for setting that goal of ensuring that there’s clean drinking water on every First Nation. The fact that in this country that that still needs to happen is an embarrassment, but it is being fixed.”

Stanley said it’s still “early days,” but EPCOR has an interest, and does see an opportunity to address the problem.