Posted on November 15, 2011 (updated: November 15, 2011)

Saskatchewan gets ‘B-’ for drinking water protection

VANCOUVER — More than a decade after deadly gaps in drinking water management killed seven people in Walkerton, Ont., Saskatchewan has taken important steps to protect the province’s drinking water but still needs to enshrine that progress in law, according to a new report from Ecojustice.

Waterproof 3, the environmental organization’s third drinking water report card, gives Saskatchewan a ‘B-’. The province scored well on its treatment and testing standards, and for being at the forefront of recognizing water as a common good — which means the government is obligated to protect it for present and future generations.

However, its source water protection plans are not enforceable by law, diminishing their effectiveness.

“Saskatchewan has a robust source water protection program, but the plans are not legally-binding,” said Randy Christensen, Ecojustice staff lawyer and author of the report. “This means the programs offer little in the way of on-the-ground protection for the province’s drinking water.”

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 Saskatchewan received a ‘B-’ for the second report card in a row, it continued to trail others like Ontario (A) and Nova Scotia (A-), which have been identified as leaders when it comes to drinking water protection thanks 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

Ecojustice is the country’s leading charitable organization dedicated to using the law to defend Canadians’ right to a healthy environment.


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