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Shoal Lake 40 aqueduct, Canada


Canada is known for its high standard of living, vast freshwater systems, and its strong commitment to human rights. However, for those who reside in rural, Inuit, and First Nations communities, a different scene plays out – often residents living on reserves do not experience the same quality of life as those living in cities and as a result, in 2017 it was estimated that approximately 150 communities are under boiling water advisories, of which, 71 are considered to be long term (Mitchell, 2017, para. 1). One of the many communities living through this crisis is the Shoal Lake 40 First Nations reserve, located on the Manitoba-Ontario border, which has not officially had a reliable drinking water source since 1997, which was when the state imposed a boil water advisory for the area (Crabb, 2017, para. 6). Prior to this, the Shoal Lake 40 residents were able to source water locally. Ironically, the disruption of Shoal Lake’s water supply took place due to the construction of an aqueduct built to supply the neighbouring city of Winnipeg with drinking water in 1919. This left rural first nations residents by the wayside despite being located less than 150 kilometers away.

In addition to this the aqueduct connection isolated the already rural community, making the only way in and out to be an unreliable and derelict barge (Crabb, 2017, para 6). According to a Globe and Mail article, "Their peninsula became an island when crews cut a channel to divert tannin-laden, boggy water coming from Falcon Lake away from the aqueduct intake for Winnipeg. Using gravel carved out from Shoal Lake’s ancestral land, crews built a dam to ensure Winnipeg’s water remained untainted. On one side, contaminated water flows to the residents of Shoal Lake 40 reserve. On the other side, clean water flows to Winnipeg." (1)

As one can imagine, the decision to provide clean drinking water to Winnipeg over those living on the Shoal Lake 40 reserve was one that has had long lasting impacts on the isolated community. With the aqueducts completion, areas of land were flooded out and the Shoal Lake 40 residents became stranded from the mainland. Fortunately, the community is slated to soon be connected to the rest of Canada by the aptly named “Freedom Road”, which promises to become an ‘all weather highway’ that will allow these Canadians to be connected to nearby Winnipeg (Crabb, 2017, para. 7). The announcement of this project, which has struggled to gain financial support from the federal government, coincides with the announcement of some harrowing statistics describing the current state of travel out of the community. Most notably, it’s high youth suicide rate and recent deaths caused from residents falling through ice, while crossing to the mainland. As well, these decisions have had a large financial impact – costing the Shoal Lake 40 community up to $150,000 per year to import their  drinking water with an additional $120,000 per year to operate the transportation barge to the mainland.  Regardless, even with the creation and completion of the connecting Freedom Road, the community will still have to wait longer for safe drinking water, which is expected to arrive by the year 2021.

In January 2019, the federal government pledged another $10 million dollars for the road.

Basic Data

Name of conflict:Shoal Lake 40 aqueduct, Canada
State or province:Manitoba and Ontario border
Location of conflict:Shoal lake 40 reservation
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Water Management
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Dams and water distribution conflicts
Water access rights and entitlements
Urban development conflicts
Tourism facilities (ski resorts, hotels, marinas)
Water treatment and access to sanitation (access to sewage)
Specific commodities:Water

Project Details and Actors

Project details

The cost of the aqueduct in 1919 was 17 million (400 million in 2011 relative to 1919).

The cost of the freedom road is approximately 40 million CAD. 225 million litres of water are drawn per year from shoal lake which has had no discernible adverse effects on water levels of Shoal Lake (CBC news, 2018).

Since 1997, a cryptosporidium outbreak induced a water-boil advisory for shoal lake.

The City of Winnipeg has a reported multi-million dollar annual revenue surplus from its water and sewer utilities department, an amount pegged at about $45 million in 2012.

Meanwhile Shoal Lake have been importing water at a cost of approximately $100,000 CAD/ year (Lorraine, 2016, para. 7) while Winnipeg accumulated 45 million in 2012. However, the wealth of the aqueduct covers the maintenance and cost of its production.

Project area:2759
Level of Investment:30,139,432.00 USD for the freedom road -- 302,703,520.00 USD the original cost of the aqueduct compared to a 2011 baseline
Type of populationRural
Affected Population:289 Shoal lake 40 residents on reserve, 647 off reserve
Start of the conflict:1919
Relevant government actors:Government of Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba provincial government, Greater Winnipeg Water District, International Joint Commission, the body governing waters along the Canada-U.S. border
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:Human Rights Watch
Amnesty International
David Suzuki Foundation

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Indigenous groups or traditional communities
International ejos
Local government/political parties
Religious groups
First Nations: Ojibway
Forms of mobilization:Development of a network/collective action
Development of alternative proposals
Involvement of national and international NGOs
Media based activism/alternative media
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Arguments for the rights of mother nature
They brought the case to the United Nations


Environmental ImpactsVisible: Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Waste overflow, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Genetic contamination, Global warming, Soil contamination, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Deaths, Other Health impacts, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Violence related health impacts (homicides, rape, etc..), Infectious diseases
Other Health impactsNausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, from the ingestion of water.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Specific impacts on women, Loss of landscape/sense of place, Displacement, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Other socio-economic impacts, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment
Potential: Increase in violence and crime
Other socio-economic impactsThe 1989 Tripartite Agreement on “environmental management” between Winnipeg, Shoal Lake 40 and the Province of Manitoba is a 60-year agreement that gives the city final say over restricting commercial, industrial or economic endeavours undertaken by Shoal Lake 40, severely limiting livelihood opportunities.


Project StatusIn operation
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Negotiated alternative solution
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Compensation is only for the construction of the freedom road. Otherwise, the conflict is ongoing.
Development of alternatives:Freedom road was proposed and is in operation, with the first layer connecting to the Trans-Canada highway in September, 2018.
A separate water treatment plant was proposed for Shoal lake 40 to ameliorate their situation. However this was rejected as the community was too remote. Hopefully with the construction of the freedom road, the remoteness issue will be solved and the water-treatment plant built.
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:It is a partial success, as the Shoal lake 40 were well organized in their social movement. This allowed them to be heard at several levels of governance, including the United Nations. However, their fight is far from over as they do not have access to clean water, which was their original problem. Hopefully as their social movement continues, this will become a reality for them.

Sources & Materials

Related laws and legislations - Juridical texts related to the conflict

United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Peoples

The International Joint Commission Boundary Waters Treaty

Treaty 3

References to published books, academic articles, movies or published documentaries

Bender, Jim. “Supporters Rally, Walk for Shoal Lake 40.”, Winnipeg Sun, 12 Sept. 2015,

CTV news staff. “Shoal Lake 40 Celebrates Start of on-Reserve Construction of Freedom Road.” CTVNews, 1 July 2017,

Martin, Nick. “Freedom Road on Track for 2019 Opening.” Winnipeg Free Press, Winnipeg Free Press, 7 Nov. 2017,

“Registered Population.” First Nation Profiles, Government of Canada, 11 July 2016,

Suderman, Brenda. “Dozens of Christian Churches Band Together in Support of 'Freedom Road'.” Winnipeg Free Press, 29 Aug. 2015,

Vuchnich, Allison. “Bacteria, Parasites and Toxins – Water Quality 'Negligence' at Shoal Lake 40.”, Global News, 7 Nov. 2015,

Ward, Dennis. “What's in a Name? Manitoba Government Staying Clear of 'Freedom Road' for Now.” Home Your Territory The Shows Newscasts Live TV for Now, APTN News, 20 Dec. 2016,

David Suzuki Foundation. (n.d.). Glass Half Empty? Year 1 Progress Toward Resolving Drinking Water Advisories In Nine First Nations In Ontario(Rep.). Accessed from: doi:ISBN: 978-1-988424-03-3

Puxley, C. (2015, October 05). Shoal Lake 40 First Nation taking its case to UN. Retrieved November 28, 2018. Accessed from:

Indigenous Services Canada. (2018, August 06). Update on long-term drinking water advisories on public systems on reserve through July 2018. Retrieved November 28, 2018, from

Scott, D. (2014). Environmental justice. In M. Brydon-Miller & D. Coghlan (Eds.) The SAGE encyclopedia of action research. Forthcoming.

Woman from Shoal Lake 40 First Nation speaks to UN about human rights. (2016, February 23). Retrieved November 28, 2018, from

(1) The price of Winnipeg’s water: Man-made misery for a native community, CHINTA PUXLEY SHOAL LAKE, ONT. The Canadian Press. Published March 12, 2015

Updated June 5, 2017

Links to general newspaper articles, blogs or other websites

Blog describing Shoal Lake's struggles and some interesting figures not mentioned in mainstream media

History of the aqueduct

Winnipeg's official website and statements on their water source

Other documents

Shoal lake water A stark reminder that clean water is not a reality for all Canadians

Shoal Lake, Honour our Agreements

Freedom Road

Shoal Lake Map

Meta information

Contributor:Paul, Katie, and Colby - University of Victoria
Last update05/02/2019



Shoal lake water

A stark reminder that clean water is not a reality for all Canadians

Freedom Road


Shoal Lake Map