The federal government is dragging its heels over the creation of a national safe drinking water strategy, leaving communities at risk for contaminated tap water, a new report says.

Waterproof 3, a drinking water report card issued by environmental group Ecojustice, warns that more than a decade after E. coli-contaminated water killed seven people and sickened 2,500 others in Walkerton, Ont., not nearly enough is being done to prevent a similar tragedy.

The report gives the federal government an F "for lagging in almost every aspect of water protection for which it's responsible," according to a news release that accompanied the report's release Tuesday.

Of top concern to the organization, the release said, is the absence of drinking water legislation for First Nations communities and the failure to establish national water standards.

Randy Christensen, the report's author and a lawyer at Ecojustice, said the government "has completely failed in its responsibilities to ensure all Canadians have access to clean, safe water."

"Clean water isn't just an environmental issue, it's a health issue and a human rights issue," Christensen said in a statement. "While the federal government now acknowledges the human right to water, they haven't taken any of the necessary steps to make that a reality for many people who live in this country."

The report acknowledges that while some provinces moved to establish more stringent water standards in the wake of the Walkerton tragedy, many of their best intentions fell by the wayside before adequate policies could be put in place.

The report, released every five years, looks at water policies, programs and legislation across the country and assigns each province and territory, as well as the federal government, a grade based on how well they are protecting drinking water.

Despite the federal government's failing grade, Ontario received an A and Nova Scotia received an A- on their strong treatment and testing programs, as well as protections for source water.

Alberta received a grade of C- for what Ecojustice called "static treatment standards and poor source water protection efforts."

The group said that traditionally, the greatest threats to drinking water safety in Canada have been gaps or deficiencies in the laws, programs, policies and people directly responsible for safe and clean drinking water.

However, the latest report identifies new threats, including climate change, unprotected source water and government cutbacks.

The report also points to the lack of "full-fledged" source water protection in areas where nearby heavy industries could potentially contaminate the water supply.

The report hails Prince Edward Island, which received a grade of B-, for its legally binding plans to protect source water systems, but criticizes the province for failing to make water treatment mandatory.

Nunavut received a D grade for having no source water protections in place, as well as the some of the lowest standards for water treatment in Canada.

The agency includes a number of recommendations in its report, including:

  • The creation and/or implementation of source water protection plans that are based on strong science and are legally binding.
  • That surface water and groundwater require filtration.
  • The testing for all contaminants on a regular and ongoing basis.
  • That water suppliers make test results publically available.
  • The creation of plans for communities that lack reliable access to safe drinking water.


Here are the grades awarded to each jurisdiction:

  • Ontario: A
  • Nova Scotia: A-
  • Manitoba: B+
  • New Brunswick: B+
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: B
  • Prince Edward Island: B-
  • Quebec: B-
  • Saskatchewan: B-
  • British Columbia: C+
  • Northwest Territories: C
  • Alberta: C-
  • Yukon: D+
  • Nunavut: D
  • Federal government: F