What are the Issues with Water in Canada?

Posted on December 10, 2013



Health Canada Estimates that unsafe drinking water causes 90,000 illnesses, and 90 deaths every year.  That is the equivalent of 13 Walkerton tragedies.  Many of these illnesses occur in municipal areas with large water treatment facilities.

We have a tendency in North America to take for granted that what we take as basic necessities, such as electricity, food supply, and water supply, are dealt with by the government and are safe at all times, especially when we live in municipal areas.   The reality is municipal infrastructure budgets are already stretched to the limits, and are required to deal with multiple infrastructure issues all from the same strapped budget.  Often the issues that are dealt with are the ones that are visual (such as potholes), or immediate (such was sink holes and water main break repairs).  However, with water delivery infrastructure aging, and much of it at the end or beyond its intended service life, the potential for leaks and contaminant infiltration into these structures becomes more and more prevalent.  No matter how state-of-the-art the local water treatment facility is, the water in your tap is really only as good as the pipes carrying it to your home.

Canada - Boil Water Advisories

Image from: The Water Chronicles

On any given day in Canada, there are roughly 1000 drinking water advisories in effect including, but not limited to, boil-water alerts.  There is no central repository for these advisories and alerts, and often times, people don’t even hear about potential issues that affect the water in their pipes.

In rural areas, it’s estimated that 20%-40% of wells have nitrate concentrations or bacteria counts in excess of current drinking water guidelines.  Many people are unaware that there is even a potential for an issue.   Others rely on seasonal “shocks”, or shocking their wells in response to a bad water test to protect their family year-round.   If this isn’t enough, perhaps it’s time to switch to bottled water?

Is Bottled Water the Solution?

What about bottled water?  That’s safe, right?  There is a huge public perception that this is the case, and that is exactly what bottled water companies want you to think.  The reality is, bottled water is not always the better choice from a health standpoint, not to mention the sheer cost of buying bottled.  The World Health Organization warns that bottled water can actually have a greater bacterial count than municipal water.   Most municipal supplies of tap water are subject to far more stringent analysis than bottled water, and the bottled water industry is largely self-regulated.  With a cost of up to 10,000 times more than tap water, for a family of 4 to get their full recommended daily amount of water consumption a day it would cost approximately $7300/year (or $20 a day).  That is not a sustainable cost for most working families.

The environmental impacts of bottled water are something that are often discussed in the context of the plastic and waste created, but there are hidden environmental impacts that are less obvious than the waste that comes from plastic bottles and delivery costs.  Water withdrawals (largely unregulated) by the bottled water industry can interfere with existing water users, and can diminish stream flows to the point of drying up streams and impacting watersheds and ground water reserves.  The long-term impact of this water usage may not be at the forefront of the bottled water argument, but it has very real and tangible effects for us, and for future generations.

What about Chlorine?

Chlorine is a chemical that is often added to water in municipal treatment facilities, and anyone who has a well has likely had to “shock” the well with chlorine bleach.   Chlorine can be an effective means of treating microbiological contaminants (such as E.Coli).  However, chlorine is not the ultimate solution.   On an aesthetic level, chlorine creates a strong scent and taste in water.  Most people prefer the taste of water without chlorine in it.  Chlorine can also bind with organic particles in water to produce carcinogenic trihalomethanes.  These chemicals can persist in water and can re-enter the water table as dangerous effluents, potentially causing environmental damage and illness.

Many of the most difficult-to-treat, illness-causing microbes in water (such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium) are highly resistant to chlorine.  Treated with larger doses and longer contact times, chlorine can indeed remove many of these microbes.   However, the resulting water can be highly unpalatable, or even dangerous to drink without further treatment to remove the excess chlorine.  There are other, more effective and less potentially harmful, methods to eliminate these issues in your water.  Treating water with chlorine for difficult microbes is generally only recommended to eliminate one-time contamination events.

What are the other options, then?

Most water treatment professionals will suggest that, in order to have full confidence in your drinking water and to ensure that disinfection is as effective as possible, a multi-barrier approach should be taken.   Most municipal water treatment facilities use a multi-barrier approach, as there is no one good solution for all potential water issues.  An example of a multi-barrier approach would be filtration, reverse osmosis, and ultraviolet disinfection.   The water moves through various stages of the treatment system and different issues and potential threats are eliminated as it travels.

A multi-stage approach with UV treatment is the best way to ensure the safety of your family’s drinking water.  UV treatment of water is safe, effective, and efficient, and,  - UV does not add harmful chemicals into your water that can affect the taste and odor of the product water.  UV can eliminate harmful microbes that are resistant to chlorine without chemicals, such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium, and can prevent microbes from overwhelming and contaminating filters and reverse osmosis membranes.

Home treatment of water is far more convenient, produces higher quality water, and costs a fraction of bottled water.  You also have the satisfaction of knowing that you are in complete control of the safety of your family’s drinking water, and you and your family are better prepared for water quality events affecting the water in your neighborhood or municipality.

Contact your local water treatment professional for a water test, and advice about what type of water treatment would work best for your area.  Make sure to ask for VIQUA UV Disinfection as a part of your multi-barrier solution.