Drinking water, food security threatened in remote Ontario First Nation amid ‘unprecedented water levels’

A remote First Nation in northwestern Ontario is still working to recover from “unprecedented water levels” coming from the Pikangikum Lake, according to an emergency management official with the community.

Major infrastructure and the main source of drinking water in Pikangikum were threatened by the rising water earlier this week, and the sole road to the northern store — the only place community members can purchase food and gas — was covered with water. The remote First Nation has about 3,000 residents and is located 500 kilometers northwest of Thunder Bay, Ont.

The community moved fast to bring in critical supplies, like food, medication and construction materials, by boat and float plane, said Darrin Spence, an emergency operations manager with the Independent First Nations Alliance (IFNA). IFNA is a First Nations-led tribal council that services five communities in northwestern Ontario.

“Through the work that the community had done, along with some of the services that they requested to deal with the flood, we were able to protect the infrastructure and also protect some of the houses,” Spence told CBC News.

A road is blocked by rising water levels in Pikangikum First Nation. (Submitted by Independent First Nations Alliance)

“There was one family that was displaced due to the flooding, so I think the threat of the evacuation is low at this time.”

Water levels have been receding over the past three days, Spence added.

Pikangikum is one of several First Nations and northern communities in northwestern Ontario and Manitoba that have been affected by high water levels.

One part of Kenora, Ont., a city of nearly 15,000 people located 488 kilometers northwest of Thunder Bay, Ont., was evacuated after flood waters obstructed road access to the neighborhood, although residents were allowed to return on Friday.

Photos of washed out roads and water-logged basements across northwestern Ontario have also flooded social media in recent weeks.

The Lake of the Woods control board warned this week of hazardous flows througout the entire Winnipeg River drainage basin, including areas of Ontario, Manitoba and Minnesota.

It came after seven weeks of record rainfall for some areas, on top of a thick snowpack in the region left over from the winter months, and officials warning that the flooding situation may get worse in the region, before it gets better.

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On Friday afternoon, the Ministry of Northern Development, Mines, Natural Resources and Forestry advised residents in the Thunder Bay district that a flood warning would be in effect for the entire May long weekend, as prolonged periods of high water were expected especially around Kaministiquia River , Dog Lake, Shebandowan Lake, Kashabowie Lake and Lac des Mille Lacs.

The ministry also issued a flood warning for the Kenora and Nestor Falls-Sioux Narrows areas because of “extremely high” water levels in parts of the district. That flood warning is in effect until June 3, the ministry release said.

Back in Pikangikum, the threat of evacuation has eased, Spence says, but efforts are now turning toward clean-up.

“In the next week, we’re going to be looking at the health and safety of each community member where the floodwaters have affected their homes,” he said, adding the flooding may have caused additional environmental and health impacts on residents that have not yet been determined.

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