Alberta — More than a decade after deadly gaps in drinking water management killed seven people in Walkerton, Ont., Alberta continues to lag on its efforts to ensure all residents have access to safe drinking water, according to a new report from Ecojustice.
Waterproof 3, the environmental organization’s third drinking water report card, gives Alberta a ‘C-’ for failing to improve to drinking water standards and its poor efforts to protect source water. The province’s failure to protect drinking water at the source is particularly alarming given that heavy industrial activity, like oil and gas extraction, increases the risk of contamination to the aquifers, lakes and rivers that feed Alberta’s drinking water systems.
“While other provinces have improved their water testing and treatment systems, Alberta has remained stagnant in the last five years,” said Randy Christensen, Ecojustice staff lawyer and author of the report. “The province still hasn’t embraced protecting water at the source, which is a big concern given the level of resource extraction happening within its borders.”
Waterproof 3 evaluates water policies, programs and legislation
across the country and assigns the provincial, territorial and federal
governments, a grade based on how well they’re protecting drinking water. Released every five years, the report also shows how each jurisdiction has performed over time on critical measures like treatment and testing requirements, drinking water quality standards, source water protection and transparency and accountability.
Alberta’s grade in Waterproof 3 is a significant decline from the ‘B’ it received in 2006. Despite its position as a “have” province, Alberta continues to fall behind others like Ontario (A) and Nova Scotia (A-), which have been identified as leaders when it comes to drinking water protection because of strong treatment, testing and source water protection programs. Alberta ranked just above Nunavut (D), which also slipped in the rankings because of continued weak treatment standards and a lack of source water protection planning.
“The recommendations from the Walkerton Inquiry gave us a very clear framework for evaluating each jurisdiction’s efforts to provide safe drinking water,” Christensen said. “Those recommendations spell out exactly what it takes to properly monitor and protect drinking water, and yet some regional governments, as well as the federal government, still haven’t put them in place.”
The federal government is the only jurisdiction to fail outright
in Ecojustice’s report card for lagging on almost every aspect of water
protection for which it is responsible. Of greatest concern is the
government’s reluctance to create rigorous national drinking water
standards that protect peoples’ health and safety.
“The federal government has completely failed in its responsibilities
to ensure all Canadians have access to clean, safe water,” Christensen
said. “Despite the lessons learned from the tragedy in Walkerton, the
federal government has failed to pass drinking water legislation for
First Nations and lead the development of national water standards.”
Other key findings in Waterproof 3 include:
In some jurisdictions, improvements to water treatment, standards and testing have stalled and lost some of the momentum that came in the wake of the Walkerton tragedy
Full-fledged source water protection — a crucial first step in achieving safe drinking water systems — is lacking in industry-heavy areas where the risk of contamination is high
New technology has yet to translate into comprehensive, centralized and easily-accessible water advisories, particularly in remote rural areas
Climate change, unprotected source water and government cuts are emerging as new barriers to clean, safe drinking water systems
Ecojustice is the country’s leading charitable organization dedicated to using the law to defend Canadians’ right to a healthy environment.