Spread out over the Pacific Northwest and traversing the 49th parallel between Canada and the United States, the Syilx People of the Okanagan Nation comprises seven member communities over 11,282 Hectares. These communities lie in the Southern Interior of British Columbia: Okanagan Indian Band (OKIB), Osoyoos Indian Band, Penticton Indian Band, Upper Nicola Band, Upper and Lower Similkameen Indian Bands, and Westbank First Nation; and in Northern Washington State, the Colville Confederated Tribes.
A distinct and sovereign Nation, all members share the same land, nsyilxcen language, culture, and customs. Today the Syilx Okanagan People continue to assert their jurisdiction and responsibility over the stewarding of their land, resources and quality of life of their citizens.
“At the heart of what the Syilx Okanagan People believe is that we have come from the land and animals themselves. Before humans were created, animal people lived on the land and gave up themselves along with their ways, beliefs, practices, and experiences for the people-to-be.”
The Okanagan Indian Band, which is the northernmost community in the Syilx Nation, lays at the head of the Okanagan Lake near Vernon, BC. Despite being located on the Okanagan Lake, it is almost ironic that some members of the Syilx Nation have never known what it is like to have clear, clean drinking water flowing from their taps, despite living so to a close to an abundance of water.
Okanagan Indian Band has six water systems, five of which have water quality issues. For years, high levels of manganese in the Irish Creek/Head of the Lake community water system have led to drinking water advisories related to both poor water quality and insufficient supply. Manganese, which causes aesthetic issues like discoloured water (brownish red), staining of clothing and plumbing fixtures (faucets, sinks), and tastes and odours. Manganese can also have health effects, particularly for young infants and children, including neurological and behavioural effects, as well as deficits in memory, attention and motor skills. In addition to the manganese issue, the water quality was generally poor (appearance, taste, and odour). The Okanagan Indian Band needed safe water.
The Head of the Lake community water system currently supplies water to about 80 homes totalling around 240 people. “We deserve clean drinking water, water that you can take from the tap and drink.”
Time for Change
In the summer of 2021, it became clear that the community’s current well was approaching the end of its life, and the community was at risk of losing their water supply at any given time.
Coinciding with the well issues was a serious shortage of reservoir capacity which hindered Okanagan Indian Band’s ability to provide adequate fire protection for the community.
“All of these issues created a rush to find a fast solution to our problem, which in turn brought us to using an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) approach,” says Vincent.
The Okanagan Indian Band’s Water Systems Improvement Project is the first time in Canada that a First Nation community used an IPD model to complete an infrastructure project funded by Indigenous Services Canada.
IPD is a collaborative approach to construction that brings all the project’s stakeholders together early to clearly establish a vision for the project and layout the plan to collaboratively achieve that vision. At the beginning of the project, the owner selects the project team prior to design. Stakeholders in this project include Okanagan Indian Band, Urban Systems, Bird Dawson Joint Venture, and trade partners.
Benefits of the IPD model
IPD model allowed Okanagan Indian Band to access high levels of expertise and talents that not all bidders could provide individually.
“Despite supply chain issues, this project proceeded as planned. That’s quite an accomplishment these days,” says Vincent. “Because we had our full team together early in the design process, we were able to identify critical long lead items, such as hydrants, electrical components, etc. Ordering these early allowed us to be in control of our schedule during a time of supply chain issues and price volatility.” For example, the IPD Team pre-purchased PVC pipe for the watermain; there was a price increase of around 15 percent within 2 weeks of placing the order, which saved the project money.
“For our community it has always been a juggling act to keep quality, budget, and timeline within acceptable standards,” says Vincent. “The IPD model brought in the best of the business and provided the platform to create a space for everyone to have a voice and vision to make the project run as smoothly and as efficiently as possible.”
The IPD model also allowed the OKIB to apply Lean Construction principles and focus on risks and potential mitigation strategies. “There are many factors that make a project successful and IPD is one factor,” says Vincent. “It also takes commitment, focus, good planning, and sound budgeting. Our IPD model allowed us to build the team that was needed for successful completion of the project.”
Scope of the Project
Starting in September 2021, the goal of the IPD project was to double the water storage capacity by building two new reservoirs and interconnecting two systems by expanding an existing water system with a good source/water treatment. This was accomplished by installing 2.2 km of piping, building a Control Valve Station, and upgrading wells and the water treatment plant.
The end result is a resilient water system with safe and clean water in abundant quantities for personal use and for fire protection.
In-house leadership was another success of the project. The project was led by a Syilx Okanagan woman who lives on OKIB, the project superintendent is Indigenous, all IPD team members completed Indigenous Cultural Training, and Knowledge Keepers and Elders came to the IPD team to provide teachings. The results were a project delivered on budget and with zero workplace injuries. “By any measure, this project is successful,” says Vincent.
Better Water Quality and Capacity
On December 19, 2022, the OKIB received approval from the First Nations Health Authority to lift the manganese water quality advisory for the HOL/Irish Creek area.
“OKIB has advocated for these water improvements for decades,” says Vincent, “so it’s a real feeling of accomplishment, trust, and pride with the change in this water.”
“You have to understand what it is like to not have access to clean, potable water to appreciate the improvement,” says Vincent. “Most of us take it for granted that you can turn on a tap and safe, clean water comes out. That was not always the case. Bathtubs would fill with yellowish water, our toilets became uncleanable due to the staining, coffee makers would only last half the year due to the hard water build up and dishwashers and sinks looked ancient after only a few months.”
The improvements to the quality of life on the OKIB thanks to clean water is immeasurable. “Now, people living at the Head of the Lake and Irish Creek areas have safe water,” says Vincent.
For more information, please visit www.okib.ca