Drinking water guidelines and governance

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The provision of safe drinking water across Canada is a responsibility shared across many agencies. At the federal level, Health Canada sets Drinking Water Guidelines for contaminants in drinking water. This is done on the advice of the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water and following public consultation. For many drinking water contaminants, Maximum Acceptable Concentrations, or MACs, are set to help those responsible for drinking water provision to ensure contaminants do not pose a health risk (See our blog on Drinking Water Guidelines here).

At the Provincial and Territorial level, responsible Ministries and Departments determine if and how these guidelines will be adopted into regulation. Operators of public water supplies such as municipalities or the private sector are then responsible for meeting the regional regulatory guidelines. Some water supplies are under federal jurisdiction such as supplies on federal lands or in federal facilities (e.g. the Coast Guard, Armed Forces, federal correctional facilities), and supplies in First Nations communities south of 60° N latitude. Private and small water supplies are not subject to the same level of regulation and monitoring for the vast array of contaminants for which guidelines exist.

Drinking water sources used in Canada vary by region and can include groundwater from confined aquifers, groundwater influenced by surface water (GUDI) or surface water such as rivers, lakes or reservoirs. Wherever our drinking water supplies come from, there is potential for contaminants to enter the supply. Some of these are naturally occurring, and others are due to anthropogenic influence. Those responsible for protection of drinking water quality in Canada typically apply a multi-barrier approach to ensure that contaminants in the water supply do not reach consumers. This includes protection of the source water from contaminants, removal of contaminants in a drinking water treatment plant, and prevention of contamination in the distribution system.

The resources listed here include links to documents and websites outlining guidelines and governance of drinking water at the federal, provincial and territorial levels, and academic literature examining drinking water management and governance in Canada.

NCCEH Resources

External Resources

  • Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines Summary Table (Health Canada, 2019)
    This summary table provides the current Canadian Guidelines for microbiological, chemical, physical and radiological parameters along with common sources of contaminants, health considerations and advice on applying the guideline.

Selected Provincial and Territorial Drinking Water Resources:

Note: this list is not exhaustive and additional information on drinking water is also provided by local and regional health authorities across Canada.

Peer Reviewed Literature

This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Omission of a resource does not preclude it from having value.

Last updated Mar 25, 2020