Canadians’ contradictory water attitudes

Elizabeth Brubaker

A new survey of Canadians’ attitudes toward water reveals deep concerns about both water quality and water quantity. It also exposes a dangerous reluctance to address these issues if doing so means paying more for water or wastewater infrastructure or services.

The 2011 Canadian Water Attitudes Study calls attention to widespread worries about water quality, both in the environment and in the home. Following are some of the more interesting (and sometimes contradictory) findings:

• Eighty-seven percent of those surveyed expressed concern about the quality of Canada’s fresh water – 54 percent were very concerned, and 33 percent were somewhat concerned. Similarly, 87 percent expressed concern about the quality of water in the lakes in which they swim – on this issue, 45 percent were very concerned, and 42 percent were somewhat concerned. Sixty-three percent thought the quality of the water in these lakes is getting worse.

• Nor were respondents confident about the water coming out of our taps. Only 29 percent were very confident about the safety and quality of Canada’s drinking water. Another 57 percent were somewhat confident. (This may help explain why just 48 percent reported drinking water directly from the tap at home.)

• Regardless of these extensive concerns about lake water and drinking water, just 24 percent reported that they would be willing to pay through a water bill or taxes into an infrastructure fund to upgrade drinking water or wastewater facilities in their communities.

The survey also measured Canadians’ attitudes towards water quantity issues:

• Eighty-five percent of those surveyed expressed concern about the availability of Canada’s fresh water supply – 52 percent were very concerned, and 33 percent were somewhat concerned. (That said, 77 percent were confident that Canada has enough freshwater to meet our long-term needs.)

• After learning that Canadians use twice as much water as Europeans, 89 percent of the respondents expressed concern about Canadians’ water usage.

• Forty-five percent agreed that we should charge more for household water use to encourage conservation. Of these, 12 percent strongly agreed, and 33 percent somewhat agreed. (Only 39 percent knew how much they pay for water. Even so, 70 percent thought that the unknown price of water is high enough to ensure it is treated as a valuable resource.)

Ipsos Reid conducted the survey of 2,066 adults in January 2011 on behalf of RBC, Unilever, and the UN Water for Life Decade. The survey results were released on March 21, 2011.

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