Municipalities are increasingly concerned about the growing level of contamination in water. Various products that are commonly used by people across the country, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products, are often flushed into water systems, creating the risk that our source water becomes unfit for use. These include products that many people would not think twice about disposing of, such as flushable wipes or skincare products with microbeads. In addition, uncontrolled stormwater runoff and wastewater leakage can deliver pesticides, fertilizer, animal waste, and hydrocarbons from residential, industrial, and agricultural uses into our water.
In Canada, contaminants are managed in several different ways. The federal government is responsible for setting out regulations, guidelines and objectives related to chemical contaminants and does so by assessing all new chemical substances for toxicity. When a substance is found to be toxic, Environment Canada conducts a further assessment of the risk the contaminant poses to human and environmental health and may ban or restrict it. As of fall 2018, 3,621 substances have been assessed under the current Chemicals Management Plan, and 456 have been found to be toxic.
However, even chemicals that are allowed for use can be damaging to our water supplies, and this is where the provincial government comes in. The province is responsible for monitoring and reporting water quality, and currently does so through the Alberta Environmental Monitoring and Science Program, which makes a variety of reports and information available to the public on their website.
AUMA policy on contaminants
Even with these regulations, municipalities are concerned that contaminants may affect our water. While AEMERA is a good start to increasing monitoring, further monitoring and research related to contaminants is required to get a full picture of water quality across the province. Municipalities also often lack the resources to implement on-the-ground measures to prevent or reduce water contamination.
At the 2014 AUMA Annual Convention, urban municipalities across Alberta resolved that AUMA advocate that the province, in collaboration with the federal government:
- Inform municipalities with respect to current knowledge related to the risks associated with Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) and other contaminants in Alberta’s aquatic environment;
- Consult with municipalities with respect to government plans to advance knowledge and develop best management practices, guidelines, and regulations related to PPCPs and other contaminants; and,
- Collaborate with municipalities to identify, study, and monitor contaminants within Alberta aquatic environments, particularly surface waters used as drinking water sources or wastewater receiving streams, and to evaluate the potential risks associated with each water body.
Members further resolved that once regulations and guidelines have been established, AUMA advocate that the province, in collaboration with the federal government:
- Work collaboratively with rural and urban municipalities to develop source control programs (e.g. education, best management practices, monitoring enforcement) and treatment processes to reduce harmful contaminants within their waste streams; and,
- Provide funding to municipalities to support source control programs and construct/upgrade treatment facilities to reduce harmful levels of targeted contaminants.
Municipal tools for contaminants in water
Municipalities can employ several tools to reduce contaminants in water. For instance, stormwater management practices can reduce the number of impervious surfaces that allow stormwater to run unfiltered into water supplies. Protection of wetlands and riparian environments can also help prevent sedimentation and manage contaminants before they enter source water. In addition, innovative wastewater and drinking water systems can both reduce the amount of contaminants entering water supplies, and treat the contaminants that have already entered.
Several other pages in AUMA’s Water Management Hub contain more information on managing contaminants in various municipal settings. Choose one of the topics below to read more: