Canada’s Drinking Water Systems Leave Small Communities at Risk: C.D. Howe Institute

Feb 28, 2011 | Government News

A decade after the Walkerton and North Battleford drinking water outbreaks, much of Canada lags international leaders in adopting management systems for assuring safe drinking water, according to a study released today by the C.D. Howe Institute.  In Safe Drinking Water Policy for Canada – Turning Hindsight into Foresight author Steve E. Hrudey says that despite some clear progress in individual provinces, Canada, and small communities in particular, need a system that better promotes and rewards competence among drinking water providers.

Safe drinking water is essential to human health, notes Hrudey, and in much of the developed, industrialized world, including most of urbanized Canada, public drinking water poses a negligible health risk.  But in the wake of a series of management failures with severe negative health consequences, Canada’s drinking water regulation is still managed in a fragmented way that leaves us vulnerable to water-quality failures, most likely in small systems. The problem is not that numerical water safety criteria are inadequately stringent; the documented failures have been caused by an inability to operate water systems effectively, pointing to poor operator competence and inadequate support systems. 

Canada needs the universal adoption of a “know your own system” water safety plan approach, based on a tangible demonstration of operator competence in understanding and delivering safe drinking water, says the author. Concurrently, provincial drinking water policies should encourage consolidation of smaller systems into larger and more viable operations. Much of England and Australia now provide small communities’ drinking water via large and competent regional water authorities. 

For the publication go to: 

For more information contact:                                   

Steve Hrudey, Professor Emeritus, University of Alberta;

Colin Busby, Senior Policy Analyst, C.D. Howe Institute;

416-865-1904 email: [email protected]

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