Municipalities are responsible for implementing drinking water standards that are set and enforced by the Government of Alberta, but derived from national guidelines. These standards and guidelines take into account operational considerations, while protecting public health. Rising standards can be a significant cost driver for municipal systems.
The province is in the early stages of reviewing drinking water regulations, and has engaged AUMA and our member municipalities in initial consultations on moving from a prescriptive to more outcomes-based regulatory regime. Municipalities will continue to be engaged as the province continues the review process over the next few years.
Here is a breakdown of current responsibilities related to drinking water:
More details on these responsibilities are provided in AUMA’s Water Primer and Discussion Paper, which can be accessed on the policy overview page.
Guidelines for Canadian drinking water quality
The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality are designed to protect the health of the most vulnerable members of society, such as children, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems. The guidelines set maximum allowable concentrations of microbiological, chemical and radiological contaminants.
A thorough explanation of how guidelines are developed and the various risk factors taken into account can be found in AUMA’s Drinking Water Guidelines backgrounder.
Alberta Drinking Water Regulations and Standards
In Alberta, municipal water systems are governed by the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, which makes the owners/operators of water systems (mainly municipalities) responsible for the day-to-day operation of treatment plans.
EPEA’s Potable Water Regulation mandates that systems must produce water that meets the maximum allowable concentrations specified in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality described above. The regulation also requires systems to meet the Standards and Guidelines for Municipal Water Works and Storm Drainage Systems. In line with the Source to Tap Multi-Barrier Approach developed by the Federal-Provincial-Territorial committee on Drinking Water, the standards and guidelines document prescribes everything from source protection to pressure at customer connections.
Drinking water safety plans
The Province has mandated that all municipal drinking water systems develop a Drinking Water Safety Plan (DWSP) by December 31, 2013. The DWSP approach was developed by the World Health Organization in 2004 to ensure the safety of drinking water through a risk assessment and risk management approach.
Like Canada’s existing approach, DWSPs are comprehensive and identify risks and hazards throughout all steps of the water supply system – form catchment (source) to consumer. In contrast to the traditional water management approach, which is largely prescriptive and reactive, the DWSP approach requires continuous self-assessment and a commitment to improvement.
Click here for more information on DWSPs.
AUMA policy on drinking water standards
Some municipalities struggle to maintain the expertise and resources necessary to meet drinking water standards. AUMA’s Municipal Water Policy includes the following policy statements addressing these challenges:
- AUMA urges the Governments of Alberta and Canada to engage municipalities early in the process of developing new standards to facilitate greater understanding of potential impacts on municipal systems and enable municipalities to better prepare for changes.
- The Government of Alberta should advance collaboration with health authorities and post-secondary institutions to build greater understanding and capacity to meet the standards.
- The Government of Alberta should work with AUMA to explore opportunities for smaller systems to partner with larger systems to gain a better understanding of how to efficiently and effectively meet standards.