Drinking water guidelines and governance
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.
- See our Drinking Water content
- 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.
- BC: Provincial drinking water resources on drinking water quality including regional health authority drinking water contacts; The Provincial Health Officer's Annual Report: Progress on the Action Plan for Safe Drinking Water (2019).
- Alberta: Provincial water resources for Alberta; Alberta Environment’s Drinking Water Program and description of Drinking Water Safety Plan approach; Alberta Health Services drinking water information.
- Saskatchewan: The Water Security Agency Annual Report on the State of Drinking Water Quality in Saskatchewan outlines the roles of ministries and agencies involved in governance, protection and provision of drinking water in Saskatchewan. Further information on drinking water testing, management and quality is available from the Saskatchewan Health Authority and SaskH2O.
- Manitoba: Provincial drinking water resources and Manitoba guidelines; Public health Drinking Water Fact Sheets.
- Ontario: Provincial resources on drinking water; Public Health Ontario water quality resources; The Ontario Drinking Water Advisory Council webpage; List of public health units’ contact information.
- Quebec: Quebec Water Strategy 2018-2030; Drinking water resources for private owners as well as those responsible for large drinking water facilities in Québec;
- New Brunswick: A Water Strategy for New Brunswick 2018-2028; Additional resources on Well Water and Water services;
- Nova Scotia: Nova Scotia Environment’s Drinking Water Interpretation Tool and “The Drop on Water,” a series of fact sheets outlining sources, health risks and treatment for an extended list of drinking water contaminants.
- PEI: Department of Environment, Water and Climate Change’s guide to interpreting drinking water guidelines in PEI and additional drinking water resources.
- NFLD: Department of Health and Community Services’ Drinking Water Quality page outlining testing and water quality considerations for public and private water supplies and additional fact sheets aimed at preventing and controlling illness from drinking water contaminants.
- Yukon: Drinking water resources from Environmental Health Services including legislation, guidance documents and external resources.
- Nunavut: The Department of Health is responsible for public water supplies in Nunavut.
- NWT: Health and Social Services drinking water quality webpage; Municipal and Community Affairs resources on drinking water in the NWT.
- First Nation Communities: Resources from Indigenous Services Canada on Water in First Nation communities, including protocols and guidelines for water systems; First Nations Health Authority Drinking Water Safety Program for BC First Nations communities.
Peer Reviewed Literature
- Drinking-water management in Canadian provinces and territories: a review and comparison of management approaches for ensuring safe drinking water.*(Bereskie et al., 2018)
This article provides a review and comparison of approaches to drinking water management within Canada, and compared to elsewhere in the world identifying potential management gaps and policy recommendations.
- Drinking water quality in indigenous communities in Canada and health outcomes: a scoping review (Bradford et al., 2016)
This scoping review article examines drinking water quality and the relationship to indigenous health in Canada, with health considerations for communities with high-risk drinking water systems and a greater proportion of drinking water advisories compared to the general population.
- Access to safe drinking water in First Nations communities and beyond.* (Swinkels et al., 2019 – First Nations Health Authority)
This article identifies some of the challenges for remote, rural and very small systems in First Nations communities and actions to improve access to potable water.
- Drinking Water Quality Guidelines across Canadian Provinces and Territories: Jurisdictional Variation in the Context of Decentralized Water Governance.* (Dunn et al., 2014)
This article outlines how Canadian Drinking Water Guidelines are applied across Canada’s provinces and territories, including consideration of urban-rural disparities and water quality in First Nations communities.
This list is not intended to be exhaustive. Omission of a resource does not preclude it from having value.