Posted on November 18, 2011 (updated: November 18, 2011)

Northwest Territories gets ‘C’ for drinking water protection

VANCOUVER — More than a decade after deadly gaps in drinking water management killed seven people in Walkerton, Ont., the Northwest Territories is falling short on comprehensive drinking water protection, according to a new report from Ecojustice.

Waterproof 3, the environmental organization’s third drinking water report card, gives the Northwest Territories a ‘C’ because while it has begun to develop source water protection plans and improve its water treatment and testing standards, the territory dropped a requirement that water be tested at certified laboratories.

NWT has slipped slightly from the ‘C+’ it got in 2006 when the report card was last released.

“The Northwest Territories has improved its water standards over the last five years and taken some early steps to protect source water,” said Randy Christensen, Ecojustice staff lawyer and author of the report. “But the territory doesn’t require that water testing be carried out at certified laboratories, which is concerning.”

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.

While the Northwest Territories received a ‘C’, other provinces like Ontario (A) and Nova Scotia (A-) have been identified as leaders when it comes to drinking water protection — thanks in large part to strong treatment, testing and source water protection programs. In contrast, Alberta (C-) slipped in the rankings because of static treatment standards and poor source water protection efforts.

“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


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