Canada's drinking water vulnerable: report

Canada's fragmented management of drinking water puts smaller communities at risk, report from the C.D. Howe Institute argues.

A new report says Canada's approach to drinking water management is fragmented and makes smaller communities vulnerable to future water-quality failures.

And the report, released Monday by the C.D. Howe Institute, says the key to avoiding these problems isn't technology but training, resources and adequate pay for professional managers.

Steve Hrudey, a University of Alberta public health engineer, writes in the report that the best way to ensure water quality is a "know your own system" approach to safety.

The report says that "those assigned to provide drinking water need to be afforded the training, intellectual support and compensation that is commensurate with their taking responsibility, through their actions or inactions, for the health of an entire community."

Hrudey also recommends that smaller communities in the same area consolidate their systems into regional water authorities, the idea being that a larger system can attract better-trained staff and produce safer water.

In a written response to request for comment from CBC News, Health Canada said that the department "works closely with the provinces and territories through the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water to develop the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, used as the basis for all jurisdictions' drinking water requirements."

Health Canada also noted that "all countries face the common challenge of ensuring safe drinking water in small communities, which lack the capacity and infrastructure of larger communities."

As an example of the fragmentation in Canada's water management, Hrudey finds there is no central list of boil water advisories across the country. Each province keeps its own list and in some cases there are a number of different lists. In Manitoba, the government keeps three lists. There is one for public systems, one for semi-public systems and one for area-wide private wells.

The report was released the same day the Canadian Water Network begins its annual international conference in Ottawa. Hrudey will be a presenter at the four-day conference.