A proposed federal bill could leave Delta on the hook for the Tsawwassen First Nation's expanding water and sewer needs.
Introduced in the Senate last year, the Safe Drinking Water for First Nations Act (Bill S-8) is aimed at developing better access to safe drinking water and ensure the effective treatment of wastewater and the protection of sources of drinking water on First Nation lands.
The federal government has exclusive jurisdiction over standards for drinking water and sewage treatment on reserves. The proposed legislation would delegate the provision of drinking water and sewage treatment, as well as enforcement of standards, to third parties, which could include provincial and local governments.
Metro Vancouver has already written to federal Aboriginal Affairs Minister John Duncan with concerns about the cost implication for cities.
A report to Metro's aboriginal relations committee notes local governments were not consulted. The report also notes there's a lack of clarity whether the regional district will be required to increase its level of service to accommodate all growth and development on First Nation lands.
The proposed bill would apply to reserve lands, but treaty First Nations lands would also have the ability to opt in, something that could have ramifications for the Corporation of Delta.
The municipality has been at odds with the TFN about Delta providing the infrastructure to service the massive residential and commercial growth planned in the next few years.
Delta council recently agreed it will not be selling the South Delta force main to Metro Vancouver to help with the sewer capacity needs of the TFN, which offered Delta $3 million in compensation.
Last year former TFN chief Kim Baird wrote to Greg Moore, chair of the Greater Vancouver Sewerage and Drainage District, inquiring about the Delta-owned sewer main that runs from the Annacis Island treatment.
It's been a long simmering issue with Delta insisting it doesn't have the pipe capacity to service the TFN's growth, and that Metro Vancouver should be responsible for providing additional service.
Mayor Lois Jackson, who requested a meeting with local MP Kerry-Lynne Findlay, told the Optimist there are many unanswered questions about the proposed federal bill, including whether local governments would face potential public health liabilities.
She said local governments have expressed concern they would be compelled to provide water and sewer services outside municipal boundaries.
"Getting clean water is really vital, but, in most instances, is the purview of the federal government," she said.
"In our case, which is a little different because we have a treaty here, it appears that we may be legislated into providing water and sewer and other infrastructure. It's very awkward when you have one municipality being responsible for water lines and sewer lines which are outside their jurisdiction. It's a strange piece of legislation and true illustration of downloading from the provincial and federal government to local government," Jackson said.
Delta South MLA Vicki Huntington said it's unconscionable for the federal government to consider downloading the cost of services on a reserve to either provincial or local governments. The federal government has a constitutional and fiduciary duty to care for aboriginal communities, she said, adding the only acceptable change would be a full partnership with junior governments.
As far as the TFN, Huntington noted the provincial and federal governments were so determined to complete the Tsawwassen treaty that it didn't matter what future obstacles may lie in waiting
"And I now believe that TFN has obtained provincial support for forcing a conclusion to this issue if necessary, certainly the province isn't going to stand by and watch this development project fail because of what they see as trouble making local or regional governments," she said.
"We can only hope that if the province does force Delta and Metro Vancouver to service these mega developments, they will at least pay for it. The whole thing is an ugly unhappy mess - from start to finish."