We all depend on access to clean drinking water. Across Canada, water gets to our homes in a variety of ways — from large-scale public treatment and distribution systems in major cities to private wells in rural areas. No matter where your water comes from, all levels of government share responsibility for ensuring that it’s safe.
In 2000, Canada’s worst outbreak of E.coli took several lives in the community of Walkerton, Ontario when the bacteria made its way into the local drinking water supply. That tragedy led Ecojustice to produce Waterproof, Canada’s first national drinking water report card, the next year. We found that in most Canadian provinces and territories, laws were not strong enough to ensure water safety.
Today, Canada’s drinking water standards continue to lag behind international benchmarks. Our latest report in the Waterproof series, released in July 2014, examines the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, which determine the maximum allowable level of contaminants in water considered safe for human use and consumption, and compared them with corresponding frameworks in the United States, European Union, and Australia, as well as standards recommended by the World Health Organization.
The findings are troubling. While Canada has, or is tied for, the strongest standard for 24 substances, it has, or is tied for, the weakest standard for 27 substances. And in 105 other cases, Canada has no standard where at least one other comparison country does. Also noteworthy is the fact that Canada has no microbiological water treatment standard to ensure that we are protected from waterborne pathogens, such as E.coli.
Access to clean, safe water to drink is a health and human rights issue. Without a concerted effort to improve Canada’s deficient water standards, Canadians will continue to be put at unnecessary risk. Our lack of strong, legally-binding national water standards also perpetuates inequity in water quality across the country, particularly in rural and First Nations communities.
A win would mean that anywhere in the country, people could be confident that the water coming out of their taps is safe to drink. Water quality would be well-monitored across the country and municipalities and provinces would apply the highest standards of source water protection and microbiological water treatment.
Check out our video to learn why Canada’s drinking water needs to be protected at its source:
Read all of our Waterproof reports
Waterproof: Canada’s first national drinking water report card
Waterproof 2 – Canada’s drinking water report card
Waterproof 3 – Canada’s drinking water report card
Waterproof: Standards 2014