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Water Today Title November 25, 2017

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The Stories...so far

Updated 7/22/14

Canada, a patchwork of BWAs

There are routinely over 1,400 Boil Water Advisories (BWA) across Canada, most of these in small communities and water systems. The highest numbers are found in British Columbia where there are more than 3,000 public and community water systems under provincial jurisdiction. In Newfoundland, where many small communities donít have the resources to upgrade their treatment systems, the numbers are also high relative to the population. The high numbers of advisories in Saskatchewan, Quebec and Manitoba are partly due to the fact that they include small water systems such as those serving daycares, restaurants, campgrounds and trailer parks.

Ontario and Alberta have few advisories other than those found in First Nations communities, as most of the population is served by large municipal water systems. However, neither Ontario nor Alberta report on small drinking water systems. As of December 2011, there were some 10,106 small drinking water systems in Ontario, 15% of which were identified as high risk, according to the Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council (ODWAC). In Alberta, water systems in schools, gas stations, institutions, offices, private campgrounds, and RV parks are considered either individual or community small drinking water systems and do not require approval under the Environmental Protection & Enhancement Act (EPEA).

Over in Atlantic Canada, most of the advisories in Nova Scotia are in what the province calls Public Individual Water Supply systems (daycares, schools, restaurants, community centres, etc), there are few in municipalities. In Prince Edward Island, 100 percent of the population relies on groundwater and only one BWA has been issued in Charlottetown since we started monitoring them. As for New Brunswick where some 66 percent of the population is on groundwater wells, most of the advisories are the result of water main breaks or equipment failure in cities.

Up North in the Territories, only one BWA was issued in 2012 for residents on private wells located near Watson Lake, Yukon due to flooding, while in the Northwest Territories, there is a long-standing advisory in Coleville Lake.

Meanwhile, although millions of dollars have been thrown at the problem, water in First Nation communities remains a national disgrace. The only good news here is that Health Canada recently published the list of water advisories in First Nations communities after withholding for seven years.

So there you have it, a patchwork of different rules, approaches and reporting systems. Canada still has no national water policy; in fact it is the only Group of Eight (G8) country that does not have national legally enforceable drinking water quality standards. Oh Canada!

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