Behind every failed First Nations water plant is an unfortunate story. Assigning blame can be challenging: Although Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) pays for most on-reserve infrastructure and sets most of the rules governing design and construction, many other parties are involved, including project managers, engineering and construction firms and First Nations chiefs and councillors.

The Globe and Mail’s ongoing research into First Nations water systems has revealed a significant number of INAC-funded projects did not last as long as expected. Some were undersized or poorly designed. Others used inappropriate technology. Still others failed because they were improperly maintained. If repeated in future plants, such missteps could thwart the federal government’s drive to end boil-water advisories on reserves.

To understand why some plants fail, The Globe studied federal reports and data, examined documents obtained under Access to Information laws and interviewed project managers, engineering consultants and First Nations leaders. These are the stories behind three of Canada’s most troubled on-reserve water treatment plants.

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