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West Coast Living in Ahousaht, BC

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Water Crisis in Ahousaht – Post #4

I was hoping post 4 would be the end of our saga but the battle will continue for at least another day.

Monday morning came. Our 4th day with no potable water but at least now they had activated the bypass and we had running water throughout the village. Residents were urged not to consume the water or use it to wash dishes unless it had been adequately boiled.

Sandbagging occurred again on Monday. Despite the now higher low tides, the crew – made up of local men and women, were going to try the repair again around 9:30pm. One of the boys basketball teams came to help sandbag, as well as men and women of all ages. All the volunteers are locals. It’s worth noting everything is happening because of local effort and labour. I found it really heartwarming to see the next generation of community leavers stepping up to the plate to help with labour, distribution of water and boil water notices.

Two of the pumps that were supposed to be put in use on Sunday night had been pulled for repairs. One had no suction and was useless at moving water from the area around the broken pipe. The other was seized. Our friend Wymon has experience in small engine repair and stepped in to help. He was able to get one up and running in time for Monday night’s attempt.

Around 9:30pm, in conjunction with the low tide, the team assembled. Despite their renewed efforts and the assistance of an excavator (which broke down partway down the hill to the site) they were unable to accomplish repairs. The team has been plagued with complications. The home-brewed team of  water treatment plant workers and volunteers deserve professional help – but with their heart and determination I can bet they will get it done on their own anyways, because that’s how Ahousaht is.

In general, outside help rarely arrives quickly. We are often stormbound in the winter and must look to ourselves for the solution and support we need. The government has been sluggish to respond in any matter – But I am comforted by the fact that our MP Gord Johns has been in contact with Indigenous Affairs Minister, Carolyn Bennett, to urge her Federal support.

In our situation – if we did not have the outside support of nearby communities on Vancouver Island we would have been hard pressed to get this far. Without their financial and water donations we would have been in very dire straights. There are no stores in Ahousaht to buy water. Tofino Co-op would have quickly run out of supplies for us and it would have taken a very extreme mobilization effort to get our own vehicles to Port Alberni, Nanaimo or Victoria and back with bottled water.

In a Facebook post on Monday, I contemplated this same scenario but with an earthquake as the cause of our struggles:

“As we have all learned through this experience, we are very vulnerable in an emergency. If we had an earthquake that ruptured our water lines we would be in the same situation but unable to rely on as much outside help. I learned that I did not have enough drinking water on hand for an emergency but could have boiled/treated our rain barrel water if needed. I think it’s really important for every house to have 3 days worth of water for each person in their home. Hopefully we can have more conversations after this on how each family can prepare for emergencies.  so many thanks to all our workers who have done so much to help everyone at home! And thank you to all the donations to our community

It is so important that we look at what we learn from this. We might not be able to rely on outside water donations the next time we are faced with this struggle.

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Part 5

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Water Crisis in Ahousaht – Post #3

Saturday Afternoon, elders, disabled and those with babies under a year were given the option to evacuate to Tin Wis Best Western in Tofino. Many chose to stay however.

On Sunday, day 3 with no water, donations began arriving from Victoria, Port Alberni, Ucluelet and Tofino. Both businesses and individuals came together to donate water and individuals donated their time to drive water from these locations to the dock in Tofino.

Lennie and I were so lucky to be able to have a shower at a friend’s home in Tofino. Ironically the water had disappeared on Friday just as I had gone to have a much needed shower! The hot stream of water we doused in yesterday was heavenly

The leak was found Sunday afternoon – Underwater of all places. The broken pipe is estimated to be 40-50 years old – Long overdue for replacement it seems. Around 8 pm the crew assembled to sandbag around the leak and try to pump out the area to access the buried pipe. Unfortunately the one pip could not keep up with the sea water and leaking pipe water to drain the area fast enough. The pipe itself could not be located below the sediments before the tide rose again by 10pm. The crew is looking at more options during a meeting at 9 am Monday morning – Day 4.

Plans will be difficult to execute from this point forward as we don’t have any more extremely low tides until Dec. 27th. Divers are being considered to do the repairs while the location remains underwater.

I will continue to update as the situation unfolds. This whole scenario has made everyone so much more thankful for our regular lives and plentiful water. We have a much stronger connection to the essential nature of water in all it’s forms. This has been eye opening as to what the residents of Flint, Michigan experience daily with their lead-laden water and the purpose behind the Standing Rock protests in North Dakota (several Nuu-Chah-Nulth and Ahousaht members are in attendance there!). These are issues we always believed in, but experiencing it for yourself makes your motivation to solve these international issues just that much stronger.

There are communities around the world who do not have access to clean drinking water. We are going through this for a few days to weeks – But there are communities right here in Canada who have not had clean drinking water for generations.

Thank you for everyone’s support and encouragement. We will make it through this!

Post 4

Water Crisis in Ahousaht – Post #2

Ahousaht had been without running water for 12 or so hours when the call came over the radio that smoke was coming out of the windows of a trailer on the reserve. The men working tirelessly on the water situation, also make up most of our volunteer fire department. Many other firefighters were also out of town, but those that were here responded in force. Bucket brigades were set up while the tanker truck and hoses were hooked up. The hydrant, 50 feet away, was useless.

The smoke could be seen from our home, a big black pillar towering over the trees. By the time I arrived the trailer was already fully engulfed in flames. The windows were blown out and the roof had begun collapsing. RCMP were on scene to begin investigating the cause. At that point we could not determine if anyone had been inside at the time. Though no one was living in the home, people had been seen inside at night. We don’t believe anyone was inside, thankfully and no one was injured during the firefighting.

Men and women were dumping buckets on the fire with what little water they could find. A truck was taken down to the docks to fill up containers with sea water. The trailer itself would be impossible to save so efforts were put on dampening a nearby home. It’s siding had already begun to warp from the heat. Someone climbed on top of the roof to pour buckets from the top. When the tanker truck was set up they were able to use a hose to better soak the neighbour’s house and then begin knocking the flames back.

When the truck’s tank ran out they had to drive around to the water treatment plant. While they were there the fire flared up significantly again. One man kept up his own bucket line from a tub of sea water, putting out flare ups in the grass. It took three refill trips to knock the fire down to a point where they were content to let it smoulder for the night.

It was scary and emotional to watch the trailer burn. It had been several families homes over the years. For me personally – One of my dog’s previous owners used to live there and my dogs would run up to their porch when they could. Now it’s a heap of blackened rubble.

The fire exacerbated our water struggle but also provided a distraction. When we all went home there was still no tap water, no water in our toilet tank and still no showers. I had soot in my hair and reeked of smoke. I can’t imagine how it must of been for the men right in the midst of it.

All photos copyright Marcie Callewaert.

Part 3

Water Crisis in Ahousaht – Post #1

Water is Life.

It’s situations like these that you realize how much we rely on water. Water truly is life.

We can’t wash our hands or flush the toilet. We can’t make coffee or tea. We can’t brush our teeth. We can’t have a drink of water. We can’t have a shower or bath. We can’t water our plants or put a water dish out for our pets.

It’s dangerous and unhealthy to not have running water and the whole village is being faced with this at once. Ahousaht lost it’s water supply suddenly and unexpectedly on the evening of Dec. 16th 2016. There was no loss of pressure – Just unresponsive taps across the reserve. I found out when I went to take a much needed shower – not even a drop came out as I turned the taps on full blast. Nothing in the sink either or in the kitchen. It wasn’t long before the VHF was buzzing with various households confirming that they also had not water. Then came the realization that many of our maintenance workers were out of the village. There was only one staff member on reserve.

For most of the night, men walked the water lines to find the leak. Short water shortages are the norm in Ahousaht – leaks, high demand and dry spells can all reduce our water availability on a regular basis. We usually are placed on water restrictions to allow the tanks to have the time to refill. We are typically ok by morning or within a day or two, but still have clean water flowing from our taps the whole time. No leaks were found by the team overnight so the group reconvened in the morning. A water treatment plant specialist was also brought in.

Emergency water stored in Ahousaht was distributed throughout the village in the morning. Elders had priority. Over the morning more water was purchased and brought in. As with all our freight, water was offloaded from vehicles at the government dock in Tofino and put onto boats before being transported for 35 min to Ahousaht on Flores Island. There it was unloaded onto a truck again and distributed immediately. Everything seemed to be working smoothly in general. Water was coming in and the men were working on the plant. And then came the call – Fire.

PART 2

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