tap water

On average, the per capita water usage in Canada is nearly 1,500 cubic meters of water a year. This ranks Canada as 28th out of 29 members of the Organization for Economic Co-operations and Development (OECD) with only the United States consuming more water per capita.

Environment Canada has a water consumption questionnaire. You have to create an account to use it, but it is a real eye-opener. For Canadian consumers, this will show you where you sit in terms of water use compared to your provincial average, and the national average.

Canada ranks so poorly for a variety of reasons. As Canadians, we tend to take fresh water for granted. We have 9% of the world’s renewable fresh water supply, and only 0.5% of the world’s people. This is no excuse to squander such a precious resource, however.

Squandering is what we do, compared to most European countries. Canadians consume over 9 times as much water per capita as people in Britain. The average Canadian household uses over 300 litres of water per day, per person.

In Canada, 68% of that 1,500 m3 per year goes to industrial uses, and 80% of that is in power production, largely cooling for thermal energy power plants. About 20% of the water usage in Canada is for residential purposes, which includes institutional (schools, hospitals) uses.

Almost half of urban households in Canada are not metered for water consumption, instead simply getting charged a flat rate. For those areas that do have water meters, consumption is lower.

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Excessive water consumption in Canada can be attributed to the lack of widespread water conservation practices, as well as water pricing that does not promote efficiency. In many cases, Canadians pay less for water than the actual cost of processing and delivery.

The rates Canadians pay for water are among the lowest in the world, which hardly encourages conservation measures. For agricultural and industrial uses, the water is practically free, with Ontario and Alberta providing industrial permits at no charge.

The solution to this problem is to start charging more for water, to treat is as a precious resource rather than as a freebie. That means that more homes in Canada have to get water meters, and the rates on those meters have to go up. The whole idea of declining block rates, where rates go down as consumption goes up, has to simply go in the dustbin.

Canada needs to start taking responsibility for the precious natural resources that we have inherited, largely through luck, and conserving them so that they will be available to our descendants. Canada needs to become a world leader in the management of fresh water. After all, we have more of it than almost any other nation, we should learn to use it wisely.

Colin Dunn was born and raised in Northern Alberta. Growing up in the boreal forest gave him an appreciation for nature, an appreciation that was enhanced by the works of his artist mother, Svala Dunn, who captured the landscapes and wildlife of the north in her oils and watercolors. He holds a Degree in Geography from the University of Alberta, with a concentration in Urban Studies. He has since found career in information technology, but still pursues his first interests in geography and the environment. He lives and works in southern Vancouver Island, with his wife and three children.

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