Ground Water Canada

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Concordia research finds little support for water centralization


July 23, 2015
By Ground Water Canada

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July 23, 2015, Montreal – A Canadian-authored paper recently published in the International Journal of Water suggests there is limited support for claims that more
centralized U.S.-style regulation of drinking water would improve outcomes
for Canadians.

July 23, 2015, Montreal – A Canadian-authored paper recently published in the International Journal of Water suggests there is limited support for claims that more
centralized U.S.-style regulation of drinking water would improve outcomes
for Canadians.

Unsafe drinking water is a topic usually connected to the developing
world. But the regular recurrence of boil-water advisories, and widely
publicized outbreaks in towns like Walkerton and Kashechewan have shown
that, even in Canada, clean water cannot be taken for granted.

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The increased scrutiny that arose from such issues has resulted in
widespread criticism of the uneven drinking water regulation among
Canada's provinces and territories.. However, centralizing water
regulation is not necessarily the best solution, according to new
research from Concordia University.

 

In a paper recently published in the International Journal of Water,
civil engineering graduate Ryan Calder evaluates claims that more
centralized U.S.-style regulation of drinking water would improve outcomes
for Canadians. The paper finds limited support for these claims but
suggests they reflect deeply held Canadian political and cultural
values.

 

"Environmental advocacy groups in Canada routinely decry the
inconsistencies between provinces and push for U.S.-style centralized
regulation as a way to improve water quality," says Calder, who is now a
doctoral candidate at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
"This paper is the first rigorously examine these claims, and it finds
that tighter regulation at the federal level would not likely improve
outcomes."

 

Using risk management theory, Calder and co-author Ketra Schmitt
from the Centre for Engineering in Society found that environmental
advocates are more influenced by the distinctly Canadian values of
equality and solidarity than by actual evidence for improved outcomes.

 

The study suggests the Canadian public are only likely to support
decentralization if provinces and territories are actively allocating
public funds to public health initiatives in proportion with the
magnitude of risks.

 

"Decentralization presents a theoretical benefit that is largely
borne out by the evidence," says Calder. "Local decision-making allows
different populations to tailor spending to their particular
circumstances, without undermining 'equity.' We actually found that the
Canadian and American experiences with centralization have led to more
permissive standards than might otherwise exist if the risks were
addressed locally."

 

Calder suggests that, rather than repeating the work of provincial
and territorial regulators, federal resources should be put towards
insuring access to safe water. He also notes that the federal government
should embrace its role as a facilitator of decision-making on a local
level if it is to respond to legitimate criticisms and promote good
governance of drinking water well into the 21st century.