Reflecting on Canada’s water quality for World Rivers Day

Clara Phillips

September 23, 2022

On September 25 we celebrate World Rivers Day. This global celebration of our planet’s rivers stemmed from the success of BC Rivers Day, founded by Mark Angelo in western Canada in 1980. The first World Rivers Day was celebrated in 2005 among twelve countries and has since grown with several million people participating last year in up to 100 countries. Learn more here about the history of World Rivers Day and its founder, Mark Angelo.

Water quality efforts in healthcare settings

Pollution prevention in wastewater discharge from healthcare facilities is a challenging task. The common products used to ensure a sanitary environment produce unavoidable subject pollutants. However, certain innovations and thoughtful choices have improved water conditions:

  • Phasing out mercury in thermometers and other medical devices
  • Purchasing cleaning supplies without chemicals that are toxic to aquatic organisms, such as nonylphenol ethoxylates
  • Proper disposal of medications, and prescriptions only when truly needed, to reduce pharmaceutical levels found in sewage

West Park’s latest water quality report, completed in June 2022, follows our Pollution Prevention (P2) Plan that ensures our operations (including in the new hospital) meet the environmental legislative requirements with respect to environmental protection. The new hospital will include modern technology to improve water efficiency and lessen the strain on downstream water utilities and treatment plants:

  • Stormwater leaving the campus will be minimized with green roofs, rain water harvesting and stormwater management ponds
  • The demand for potable water will be reduced with water-efficient fixtures, like low-flow toilets and hands-free faucets, and modern landscaping techniques including a rainwater irrigation system, planting native and drought-tolerant plants, and using mulch to retain water

Water quality in First Nations communities

Canada has the 7th-largest supply of renewable freshwater per capita in the world, but this resource is not evenly distributed nor properly maintained across the entire country. According to the Fraser Institute, the overall state of water quality in Canada is very good; however there are localized areas that require urgent maintenance and monitoring. In particular, Indigenous communities face extreme water security challenges. The stats are alarming: 35% of First Nations communities in Ontario are under a drinking water advisory, meaning they have no access to safe drinking water at home. Limited access to safe water can result in serious illness, increased consumption of sweetened beverages as an alternative to water, poor hygiene, and higher infection transmission.

While the infrastructure and operation of water treatment plants plays a critical role in supplying safe water, protecting the quality of environmental water supplies is invaluable. From 2010-2013, 18% of boil water advisories for drinking water were caused by water quality issues like E. coli or other microbiological parameters. In a study from the University of Waterloo that surveyed members from 10 Indigenous communities from the Northwest Territories and Yukon, they found that 7% of participants consume water collected directly from a nearby body of water, as opposed to tap water, due to various factors influencing their trust of the tap water supply.

The Great Lakes provide a significant source of drinking water and 9 of Canada’s 20 largest cities reside in this region. However, the ability of these lakes to support viable ecosystems is strained by the associated population and the urban and industrial facilities. The Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement supports coordinated efforts to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. The St. Lawrence River is another vital body of water in our nation, linking the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, supplying an ecosystem of lakes and freshwater reaches, and home to diverse plant and marine life. The quality of the St. Lawrence River water is at jeopardy due to high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen from human activity through industrial wastewaters, agricultural runoff, and air pollution. As shown in the Figure below, only one water quality monitoring station in Saint-Maurice showed “Good” nutrient levels. Learn about the St. Lawrence Action Plan and the efforts being made to conserve, restore, and protect the St. Lawrence River.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Lastly, we would like to recognize the upcoming National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30. As a vital component of the reconciliation process, this day commemorates the tragic history and ongoing impacts of residential schools. Many Survivors today are unfortunately also members of the First Nations communities facing water security challenges. Across the country, hundreds of activities are taking place to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools, and for you to learn about the rich and diverse cultures, voices, and stories of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

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