Goal 6: Ensure clean and safe water for all Canadians
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Why this goal is important
Canada has about 20% of the planet's freshwater resources and 7% of the world's renewable fresh water. This Goal's focus is on restoring freshwater ecosystems and ensuring clean and safe water for Canadians, which directly supports SDG Global Indicator Framework targets:
- 6.1: By 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all
- 6.3: By 2030, improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminating dumping and minimizing release of hazardous chemicals and materials, halving the proportion of untreated wastewater and substantially increasing recycling and safe reuse globally
- 6.4: By 2030, substantially increase water-use efficiency across all sectors and ensure sustainable withdrawals and supply of freshwater to address water scarcity and substantially reduce the number of people suffering from water scarcity
- 6.5: By 2030, implement integrated water resources management at all levels, including through transboundary cooperation as appropriate
Canada's waters are an irreplaceable natural heritage that Canadians should use sustainably and be able to access equitably. In Canada, lakes and rivers supply drinking water to millions of Canadians and sustain a rich variety of plants and animals. Groundwater resources also provide drinking water to Canadians, sustain base flow in streams and rivers during dry periods, and support ecological services.
Addressing sources of water pollution and contamination, such as under-treated wastewater and run-off from cities and farms, can help ensure that lakes and rivers continue to provide opportunities for swimming, boating, and recreational fishing and support economic activities such as tourism, commercial fisheries, agriculture, shipping, manufacturing, and energy production over the long term. Fresh water is often sacred and at the centre of all life for Indigenous Peoples. For many, water permeates every aspect of existence.
Protecting and restoring water resources requires collaboration and partnership among the Government of Canada and provinces and territories, Indigenous Peoples, municipalities, conservation authorities, and other governments and organizations. Notably, Canada and the United States have a long history of effective cooperation in managing shared waters. More than 40% of the Canada-U.S. border is water, and more than 300 rivers and lakes (some of the largest in the world) lie along, or flow across, the border between Canada and the United States.
Finally, while Canada's drinking water is among the safest in the world, access to clean drinking water remains a challenge in some small and remote First Nations communities on reserves. The Government of Canada is committed to working in partnership with First Nations to eliminate all remaining long-term drinking water advisories on reserves and make sure that long-term investments and resources are in place to prevent future ones.
How the Government of Canada contributes
Freshwater management in Canada is a responsibility shared among federal, provincial, territorial, and Indigenous governments. The Government of Canada has jurisdiction in areas such as fisheries, pollution prevention, shipping and navigation, international relations, transboundary waters, creating and managing protected areas and managing freshwater on federal lands. It also plays a leadership role in freshwater science and research to ensure that Canadians have the necessary information for evidence-based decision making on Canadian freshwater resources. For example, the government develops Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality in partnership with the provinces and territories.
Protecting and conserving Canadian waters is a key priority for the Government of Canada. The pollution prevention provisions of the Fisheries Act prohibit the release of pollution in waters frequented by fish. These provisions are some of the federal government's strongest tools for reducing pollution to water. Environment and Climate Change Canada manages these responsibilities by developing regulations, such as the Wastewater Systems Effluent Regulations, that set strict requirements on any releases to water, and by applying and enforcing the FisheriesAct prohibition where there are no regulations.
The Canada Water Act provides a framework for collaboration among federal, provincial, and territorial governments in matters related to water resources. The Government of Canada also has agreements with provinces to work collaboratively on water issues, such as the Canada-Quebec Agreement on the St. Lawrence 2011 to 2026 (St. Lawrence Action Plan), the 2021 Canada-Ontario Agreement on Great Lakes Water Quality and Ecosystem Health, and the Canada-Manitoba Memorandum of Understanding Respecting Lake Winnipeg and the Lake Winnipeg Basin (2021 to 2026).
The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 is the basis for collaborative management of Canada-U.S. boundary and transboundary waters. Canada is also a signatory to other international agreements with the U.S. to manage boundary and transboundary waters, such as the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and the Columbia River Treaty. This work includes actions to restore and protect Lake Erie and other Great Lakes, as well as the 2016 commitment to reduce annual phosphorus loadings into Lake Erie by 40% from 2008 levels.
The Government of Canada has adopted protocols and guidelines to support First Nations in providing community water and wastewater services comparable to the levels of service that would generally be available in off-reserve communities of similar size and circumstances, as well as to set out clear standards for the design, operation and maintenance of drinking water systems.
Supporting access to clean drinking water in First Nations communities on reserves
The solutions to addressing drinking water in First Nations are unique to each community, and Indigenous Services Canada works closely with each community to find the most appropriate solution. On reserves, providing safe drinking water is a shared responsibility among First Nations communities and the Government of Canada. First Nations own and operate their water and wastewater systems and design and construct facilities. The Department provides advice and financial support to First Nations communities for their public water and wastewater systems and ensures that drinking water quality monitoring programs are in place.
Indigenous Services Canada is supporting First Nations partners to achieve sustainable access to safe drinking water, including by:
- committing $5.6 billion in funding from 2016 to 2024 to First Nations to upgrade water and wastewater infrastructure on reserves, to better support the operation and maintenance of systems, and to improve the monitoring and testing of community drinking water
- supporting First Nations to address and prevent long-term drinking water advisories
- advancing reconciliation through the approval of the Safe Drinking Water Settlement Agreement
Between November 2015 and August 10, 2022, 135 Long-Term Drinking Water Advisories and 222 Short-Term Drinking Water Advisories have been lifted from public systems on reserves. Indigenous Services Canada continues to partner with First Nations to develop new approaches that will ensure that on-reserve water and wastewater systems are safe and adequately meet the needs of each community.
Stakeholder perspective: PortsToronto Trash Trapping Program
In an effort to combat and study single-use plastics and microplastics in waterways, PortsToronto launched its award-winning Trash Trapping Program in 2019. The University of Toronto Trash Team, as project partners, count and characterize the materials captured by PortsToronto Seabins in order to further understand the origination of floating plastic and litter in the Toronto Harbour. This informs technological and behavioural solutions to prevent these materials from entering Lake Ontario in the first place. PortsToronto and the University of Toronto Trash Team report that the Trash Trapping Program diverted tens of thousands of small pieces of plastic pollution from Lake Ontario over the course of a seven-week field season in 2021. Individual Seabins removed an estimated 209 pieces of small plastic per day, with the entire network capable of diverting 33-kilograms of litter throughout an entire season—the weight of approximately 3,400 plastic water bottles.