Note: this impact measure focuses on drinking water specifically, versus surface water quality, which relates to untreated water found in our rivers, lakes and other water bodies visible on the surface.
The World Health Organization recommends that all countries have national, legally binding drinking water quality standards. Ensuring that the water we drink meets the appropriate level of quality, or standard, for human health is important. Further, these standards need to be be required through legislation with legal implications if not achieved.
Currently, there are no enforceable drinking water standards at a national scale in Canada.
Instead, the federal government has Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality which set out the maximum acceptable concentrations of substances in drinking water and the basic parameters that every water system should strive to achieve in order to provide the safest drinking water possible. However, the national guidelines are voluntary and non-enforceable.
Instead, Canada’s provinces (and increasingly territories as a result of devolution) have the authority to make decisions regarding drinking water. This approach, however, has led to a fragmented suite of provincial drinking water regulations that vary region to region.
Canadians should be assured that no matter where they are in Canada, a glass of drinking water is safe to consume. Given the human health implications, the federal government should ensure that minimum enforceable standards for drinking water exist across the country. This is not to suggest that all provincial or territorial efforts be replaced by a national one. Indeed, provincial or territorial governments that enact more stringent standards should continue to play a leadership role; however, the federal government has a responsibility to the health of its residents to ensure basic standards are being met.
5-Year target: Advance the inclusion of enforceable national drinking water standards within the next review of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.
Last updated September 2020