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As Canada's Boil Water Advisories Decline, Is Our Drinking Water Any Safer?


Ottawa, ON -- (SBWIRE) -- 01/28/2015 -- On January 20, 2015, there were 1,343 water advisories across Canada, some 400 fewer than there were seven years ago. According to an report published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal - which was based on Water Today's advisory maps - there were 1,766 boil water advisories in April 2008.

"While this is a step in the right direction", says Water Today Publisher, Josee Dechene, for a country with the third largest renewable water reserves in the world, it's hardly stellar."

Closer scrutiny of the numbers reveals that while some provinces have less boil water advisories, others have more. In fact, the decline can be attributed almost entirely too one province, Ontario, where the number of advisories tumbled from 670 to 64.

This is largely due to the fact that Ontario no longer publishes advisories in small drinking water systems, such as daycares, residences, restaurants and campgrounds, which made up the bulk of the advisories in 2008. According to the Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council (ODWAC), as of December 2011, there were 10,106 systems identified as falling under the Small Drinking Water Systems Program. Out of these 6,990 had been assessed as to the risk they pose. with 15% or over a 1,000 systems being categorized as high risk

This being said, there are improvements in the management of drinking water in Canada.

The Walkerton, Ontario tragedy in May 2000 - where seven people died after E.coli bacteria made its way into the town's water system ­ - was a definitely a wake­-up call.

Fearing liabilities, provinces and territories scrambled to review their policies and enacted new drinking water regulations. All drinking water system were inventoried ; at-­risk water systems identified ; and procedures and operator certification more clearly defined.

What with administrative delays, program changes and changes in government, it is taking years to see improvements, but these initiatives are slowly starting to pay off.

Meanwhile, closer monitoring and better reporting have led to an increase in the number of advisories in provinces such as Saskatchewan , from 126 to 257, and Manitoba, from 59 to 155, but it should also be noted that both these provinces rigorously publish advisories for both municipal and smaller drinking water systems.

Where there is is definite improvement is in Newfoundland Labrador where the number of advisories decreased from 228 to 172 , most of these being in small communities; and Nova Scotia where the numbers went from 67 to 32, all of which are in small individual systems.

The Government of Canada's annual Gas Tax Fund for municipal infrastructure is helping. It was created to provides predictable, long term funding for Canadian municipalities to help them build and revitalize their local infrastructure .

Though municipalities lament that the funds are inadequate to meet the increased needs of ageing infrastructure and emerging chemical and pharmaceutical contamination, the Gas Tax Fund has made $15 billion available to support municipal infrastructure to date.

About Water Today
WATER TODAY is an independent media about water in Canada. Formerly The Water Chronicles, it is built on an 8-year tradition of fair reporting, investigative journalism, and punctual water advisory monitoring.

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Josée Dechêne
Water Today
Ottawa, ON