Drinking water is the most personal way each of us interacts with water on a daily basis. We can’t live without it. Our access to safe drinking water is, therefore, an important measure of water health. The Drinking Water Advisories impact measure, which updates a previous version published in 2017, presents a snapshot of drinking water advisories (DWAs) in Canada.
A total of 978 DWAs were active in Canada on November 11, 2021. This was a decrease of 13% from the 1128 advisories that were active in June 2017 when this indicator was first published. The majority of active advisories on November 11, 2021 were found in British Columbia (244 advisories, or 25% of the total). Saskatchewan (174 advisories, 18% of total), Newfoundland and Labrador (143 advisories, 15% of total), Quebec (119 advisories, 12% of total), Ontario (114 advisories, 12% of total) and Manitoba (99 advisories, 10% of total) all had more than 10% of total advisories. The remaining provinces/territories contributed relatively few to the total. In particular, the three northern territories combined had only 6 DWAs active on November 11, 2021. In terms of duration, 896 of the 978 DWAs active on November 11, 2021 (or 92%) had been active for a month or more and 504 (or 52%) had been active for a year or more.
Looking at the DWAs by type, the vast majority were boil water advisories (BWAs). Of 978 DWAs active across the country, 905 (93%) were BWAs. A further 46 (5%) were do not consume advisories (DNCAs) and the remaining 27 (3%) were cyanobacterial bloom advisories (CBAs). This same pattern played out at the sub-national level, where BWAs were the most common in all provinces/territories, ranging from a high 100% in the three northern territories to a low of 74% in Quebec. As with DWAs in general, British Columbia was the jurisdiction with the greatest number of BWAs (214 or 91% of all BWAs). Quebec had the greatest number of DNCAs (24 or 89% of all DNCAs). Ontario was home to nearly all active CBAs (23 or 96% of all CBAs).
In terms of duration, BWAs and DNCAs followed a pattern like that for DWAs overall. The vast majority of BWAs active on November 11, 2021 (92%) had been in place for a month or more and about one half (53%) had been in place for more than a year. For DNCAs, the corresponding values were 89% and 57%.
The quality of drinking water in Indigenous communities has long been a source of concern in Canada. The Government of Canada has committed to ending all “long-term” (older than one-year) DWAs in Indigenous communities south of the 60th parallel (commonly referred to as First Nations communities). This commitment was originally made in 2015, with March 31, 2021 set as the target date by which all long-term advisories affecting First Nations communities were to be lifted. In spite of the lifting of 119 long-term advisories since November 2015, the Government of Canada reported that 43 long-term advisories affecting 31 communities (mostly in Ontario) remained in place for First Nations communities as of October 2021. No new date has been set for the removal of the remaining long-term First Nations advisories.
A total of 99 DWAs were in place in Indigenous communities across Canada on November 11, 2021. Of these, 87 (88%) had been in place for at least a month and 46 (46%) had been in place for a year or more; most of the long-term advisories were in Ontario. This means that of the 896 DWAs active for one month or more across Canada on November 11, 2021, 10% affected Indigenous communities. Statistics Canada reports that approximately 329,000 Indigenous Canadians, or about 1% of the total Canadian population, lived on First Nation reserves in 2016. This suggests that Indigenous Peoples in Canada are disproportionately impacted by long-term DWAs.
The previous version of the Drinking Water Advisories impact measure listed 108 DWAs related to Indigenous communities. This suggests that DWAs in general have declined more (13%) than DWAs affecting Indigenous communities (8%). This is despite the Government of Canada’s commitment to ending long-term DWAs in Indigenous communities. Of course, it is difficult to determine trends based on just two points in time, since DWAs come and go in response to a variety of influences.
Last updated January, 2022