Water and Wastewater

Municipal water and wastewater systems are failing Canadians. To ensure safe drinking water and effective sewage treatment, Environment Probe is calling for stricter government regulation (both environmental and economic) and for greater private funding and operation of utilities. The organization has promoted the privatization and regulation of water utilities in a number of forums, including the Walkerton Inquiry, which funded an extensive study on the issue. Environment Probe’s Book, Liquid Assets: Privatizing and Regulating Canada’s Water Utilities (published by the University of Toronto’s Centre for Public Management), was short-listed for the 2002/2003 Donner Prize, and award for the best public policy book in Canada.

In some regions of Canada, water is becoming increasingly scarce. And across the country, water and wastewater systems are undersized and in need of repair. Because Canadians pay so little for water, they have few incentives to conserve, and utilities have insufficient funds to improve their infrastructure. Environment Probe is campaigning to promote full-cost pricing to protect public health and the environment.

In May 2000, contaminated water killed seven people and sickened 2,300 in Walkerton, Ontario. Environment Probe, under the banner of the Energy Probe Research Foundation, participated extensively in the public inquiry established to examine the causes of the tragedy and, more generally, the safety of drinking water in Ontario. Over the course of the two-year inquiry, the organization cross-examined witnesses, participated in expert meetings, and made submissions on environmental and economic regulation, enforcement, source protection, agricultural pollution, incentive structures, accountability mechanisms, and the privatization and financing of water utilities.

Many of the worst water drinking systems in Canada are found on native reserves. In 2006, the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development commissioned a study from Environment Probe on the governance of water systems. In its review of emerging best practices and in its subsequent work, Environment Probe has stressed the importance of legally binding standards, expert operators, sustainable financing, and meaningful accountability mechanisms.

Constructed wetlands provide a simple, inexpensive, and environmentally friendly method of purifying stormwater and contaminated water from households, small communities, farms, landfills, and mines. They also provide food and habitat for wildlife and create pleasant landscapes. Environment Probe is working to promote the use of constructed wetlands.

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