Wednesday, November 16, 2011

How safe is your drinking water? Ecojustice report says it depends on where you live

An environmental watchdog group is giving many provinces and territories, as well as the federal government poor grades for the way they protect drinking water from contamination.

Vancouver-based Ecojustice's latest report concludes much of Canada's drinking water remains at risk, The Canadian Press reports.

The Ecojustice report, the third issued by the group, gives only Ontario a grade of A, while Nova Scotia gets an A-minus, several provinces are given Bs and the federal government gets the only outright failing grade.

Postmedia News said the report, titled Waterproof 3, says the federal government has done little to improve drinking water conditions, including those in First Nations communities. It also cited a reluctance to create rigorous national drinking water standards.

The findings come a decade after seven people died and thousands became ill when E. coli bacteria contaminated the water supply of of Walkerton, Ont., because of a negligently-run water system. Two officials pleaded guilty to minor charges, one receiving a one-year jail term and the other house arrest.

The Ecojustice report found Ontario now "is implementing the most ambitious source water protection program in Canada and has some of the country's strongest treatment, testing, operator training and public reporting standards."

Nova Scotia's A-minus was an improvement over the 2006 Ecojustice report, while Manitoba's B-plus was actually a decline, though it was praised for strong treatment standards and a robust source-water protection program.

Quebec, whose B-minus represents a decline, "stands alone in standards and is developing what appears affirming that water is a collective good and has strong treatment regulations, but (source-water protection) is not as advanced as in other provinces."

British Columbia earned a C-plus, same as last time. But Ecojustice criticized the province for having "some of Canada's lowest standards for water treatment and source-water protection efforts ..." B.C. is "undertaking an ambitious water law overhaul but it does not touch directly on drinking water."

Alberta's grade dropped to C-minus because the province "has not fully engaged in (source-water protection) efforts despite being a hub of industrial activity. Standards for water treatment and testing have remained static during the last five years."

Other provinces: Manitoba and New Brunswick B-plus, Newfoundland and Labrador B, and Prince Edward Island and Saskatchewan B-minus.

All three northern territories experienced declines in the Ecojustice assessment, though both Yukon and the Northwest Territories were recognized for taking steps towards improvement. Nunavut, however, "has no source water protection in place and its standards for water treatment are among the lowest in Canada."

And Ottawa earned an F - no change from 2006 - because its record of poor protection for drinking water "continues to worsen."

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