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Editorial: Spring 2015

A teaching opportunity

April 28, 2015  By Colleen Cross

It looks as if we in the profession of water stewardship have some work to do to highlight the value of water among the public.

It looks as if we in the profession of water stewardship have some work to do to highlight the value of water among the public.

The 2015 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, released in time for World Water Day in March, yielded some troubling insights into Canadians’ knowledge of and attitudes toward water quality, conservation and infrastructure in this relatively water-rich country. The bellwether study is one positive legacy of the Walkerton tragedy, which marks its 15th anniversary this May.


Although those polled showed a willingness to pay for water and its infrastructure, the report suggests Canadians do not fully appreciate the value of their drinking water.

The study, which sampled more than 2,000 urban adults indicates that only 39 per cent know how much money their household spends on water; 63 per cent either don’t have or don’t know if they have a water meter in their home; and a quarter of Canadians don’t care where their water comes from, as long as it tastes good.

The results also suggested a trend of indifference among young Canadians aged 18 to 34, a group often referred to as the millennial generation. Although 90 per cent of millennials rely on a municipal water supply, they show both the least concern about and the least trust in the quality of their tap water.

Those conclusions not only suggest a paradox but also hint at a worrying complacency. They don’t trust their tap water and yet they are not overly concerned about water quality.

Behind this complacency is another troubling statistic: 22 per cent of younger people are most likely to feel it is not their responsibility to protect drinking water sources.

In what may be the most baffling findings, these young folks are most likely to prefer to filter their tap water and to view bottled water as safer than tap water.

Millennials’ relative ignorance about potable water issues is a little surprising considering they are often described as wanting to protect the environment. Is this a case of the younger generation being sheltered while growing up? 

California and India have a myriad of water issues that are being closely watched in Canada, as is reaction to British Columbia’s shockingly low water rates stemming from the Water Sustainability Act. In fact, the situation in B.C. has galvanized nearly 100,000 citizens to sign a petition asking the province to revisit pricing.

Such events are not-to-be-missed teaching opportunities for the ground water industry.

The E. coli contamination that in May 2000 killed seven people and sickened 2,300 Walkerton-area residents was another such opportunity, and it seemed to create a sobering awareness of what can happen when not every link in the chain is strong.

So perhaps the most shocking number in the RBC report is 55. That’s the percentage of millennials who said they were not familiar with Walkerton, nearly twice the percentage of those 55 and over who were also unaware.

Raising the profile of water here at home can be as simple an act as taking the time to educate well owners on their rights and responsibilities or speaking to a local service group about the ground water industry.

Those who care deeply about water in Canada should not assume they are preaching to the choir but instead should take every opportunity to share their knowledge and make safeguarding it a priority.

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