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Clean drinking water

Long-term goal

All Canadians have access to safe drinking water and, in particular, the significant challenges Indigenous communities face are addressed

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Why is this issue important

Clean drinking water is a fundamental human need, and helping to ensure that all Canadians have clean water to drink is a federal government priority. Providing safe drinking water requires a great deal of knowledge and coordination among multiple stakeholders, including governments, businesses and individuals across Canada.

Canada in the world

Ensuring safe drinking water for all Canadians supports the 2030 Agenda and its global Sustainable Development goals—in particular SDG 3, Good Health and Well-being, and SDG 6, Clean Water and Sanitation. It also supports specific SDG targets, as well as other international agreements and initiatives.

For details on how this goal supports international action, see Annex 3.

Connections with other FSDS areas

Ensuring safe drinking water for all Canadians supports FSDS targets related to healthy and sustainable communities and is enabled by action to address climate change, support green infrastructure and ensure healthy lakes and rivers:

  • climate change impacts such as rainfall changes and floods can cause water shortages and contamination—we need to consider these impacts and take action to adapt
  • investing in water infrastructure is essential for ensuring clean and safe drinking water, while investing in wastewater infrastructure helps protect sources of drinking water from pollution
  • lakes, rivers and groundwater are important sources of drinking water for Canadians, while water stewardship and management and conservation of wetlands can help protect drinking water supplies from contamination
  • sustainable agricultural practices can enhance the quality of water running off or draining from agricultural land, helping to protect sources of drinking water

Our partners

Provinces and territories work closely with us to establish and update the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality—which form the foundation for drinking water quality standards across Canada—and implement them in accordance with their priorities for protecting public health.

The responsibility for safe drinking water quality in First Nations communities is a shared responsibility between First Nations and the Government of Canada. First Nations are owners of their water and wastewater systems and are responsible for its daily operation and management activities including planning, design, procurement, construction, and maintenance of their on-reserve water and wastewater infrastructure.

When a potential concern about drinking water quality is identified, First Nation partners or an Environmental Health Officer employed by the Government of Canada will provide a recommendation to the Chief and Council for action. In First Nation communities, the Chief and Council issue and rescind drinking water advisories.

Indigenous Services Canada has partnered with other federal departments and agencies to facilitate the sharing of information and best practices relating to water and wastewater in First Nations in order to leverage the collective expertise and resources of partners. Although the immediate goal is to meet our long-term drinking water advisory commitment, longer-term activities are being undertaken to support the ultimate vision of greater self-determination and autonomy for First Nations.

Partners taking action - Federal departments working together to create educational tools

As part of the Interdepartmental Working Group on Drinking Water, several federal departments have worked together to develop the e-learning course Water Quality 101: Potable Water Micro-System Fundamentals as a comprehensive introduction to water quality in general with focus on the provision of potable water for micro-systems (very small systems providing drinking water for up to and including 25 people). In addition to being an essential tool for federal departments, this publicly available course is now accredited by several provinces as training for their own small drinking water system operators.

Responsible ministers/Key departments and agencies

Minister of Indigenous Services/ Health Canada; Indigenous Services Canada; Public Health Agency of Canada; Statistics Canada

Canada's starting point

  • To measure the extent to which drinking water advisories reflect drinking water contamination (as opposed to precautionary action in response to problems with drinking water equipment or processes), we track boil water advisories and their causes. In 2017, based on a subset of Canadian jurisdictions, 83% of advisories were issued as a precaution.
  • As a measure of access to safe drinking water, Indigenous Services Canada tracks the number of long-term drinking water advisories affecting public water systems on reserve. In November 2015, Indigenous Services Canada established a baseline of 105 long-term drinking water advisories on these systems. Since then, the number of long-term drinking water advisories has declined from 105 to 58 as of April 1, 2019.