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New construction of water infrastructure in Canada sped up in 2017 and 2018


November 23, 2020
By Ground Water Canada

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Ottawa – Statistics Canada and Infrastructure Canada have released data for 2018 on the stock, condition, performance and asset management strategies of Canada’s potable water, storm water and wastewater infrastructure.

In 2018, there were more than 56,000 water, storm water and wastewater facilities in Canada, including treatment facilities, pump stations, lift stations, reservoirs and storage tanks, ponds and wetlands for storm water, and other end-of-pipe facilities. These are linked to 816,000 kilometres of potable water and sewer pipes, force mains, open ditches and culverts.

This compares to about 39,000 water, storm water and wastewater facilities and 761,000 kilometres of linear infrastructure reported for 2016.

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New construction of water infrastructure accelerated in 2017 and 2018

Results from Canada’s Core Public Infrastructure Survey indicated that the construction of water assets of all types accelerated in 2017 and 2018. An average of approximately 13,000 kilometres of new linear water assets were built per year in 2017 and 2018, compared with around 6,000 kilometres per year from 2000 to 2016. Similarly, on average, around 1,590 non-linear water facilities (pump and lift stations, reservoirs and storage tanks, treatment facilities, and other end-of-pipe facilities) were constructed each year during 2017 and 2018, compared with approximately 1,200 facilities per year from 2000 to 2016.

In 2016, the federal government committed $2 billion to renewing water and wastewater systems through the Clean Water and Wastewater Fund (CWWF). The Investing in Canada Plan Project Map indicated that 2,365 projects were approved under the CWWF from 2016 to 2018, representing more than $3.8 billion in total eligible costs. Data from the Annual Survey of Capital and Repair Expenditures (CAPEX) showed that over $18 billion was invested in water and wastewater infrastructure from 2016 to 2018. This is still below the $24.5 billion invested from 2010 to 2012.

In 2007, a study conducted by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and McGill University estimated that close to $88 billion of investments in water-related infrastructure were required in relation to existing capital stock and for new infrastructure requirements. CAPEX data indicated that $65.8 billion was invested in these assets in the 10-year period from 2007 to 2016.

Little change in the condition of water infrastructure since 2016

Despite recent investments in water infrastructure, the share of linear assets in poor or very poor condition was unchanged in 2018 compared with 2016, at around 11 per cent.

There was a decrease in the share of linear assets reported to be in good condition or better. Less than half of linear assets were deemed to be in good or very good condition in 2018, compared with 53 per cent in 2016.

One-fifth of water and wastewater pipes were 50 years old

About 20 per cent of water distribution and transmission pipes and more than 25 per cent of sanitary sewer pipes (excluding storm water pipes) were built before 1970. In spite of this, around 11 per cent of the total stock of these assets were reported to be in poor or very poor condition, with more than half reported as being in good condition or better.

Potable water treatment facilities, lagoon systems and wastewater treatment plants are newer than the underground infrastructure, with seven per cent of them having been built before 1970. Among all water treatment facilities, lagoon systems and wastewater treatment plants in Canada, two-thirds were reported as being in good or very good condition.

More than two-thirds of owners in large urban municipalities have an asset management plan

More water infrastructure owners had asset management plans in 2018 compared with 2016 for potable water (57 per cent in 2018, compared with 43 per cent in 2016), storm water (51 per cent in 2018, compared with 34 per cent in 2016) and wastewater assets (56 per cent in 2018, compared with 38 per cent in 2016). Most gains were in municipalities with fewer than 5,000 residents.

In 2018, large urban municipalities with a population of 30,000 or more were more likely than smaller municipalities to have an asset management plan for their water assets. Around 70 per cent of owners in large urban municipalities had an asset management plan in 2018 for potable water (72 per cent in 2018, compared with 66 per cent in 2016), storm water (68 per cent in 2018, compared with 51 per cent in 2016) and wastewater assets (70 per cent in 2018, compared with 65 per cent in 2016).

An asset management plan defines how a group of assets is to be managed over time. The asset management plan describes the characteristics and condition of infrastructure assets, the levels of service expected from the assets, planned actions to ensure the assets are providing the expected level of service, and financing strategies to implement the planned actions.

Who was surveyed?

Data are based on responses from approximately 2,520 government organizations selected from Statistics Canada’s Business Register, the central repository of information on public and private organizations operating in Canada. The following organizations are included in the survey:

  • Provincial and territorial departments and ministries
  • Regional governments
  • Urban and rural municipalities
  • Selected provincial Crown corporations and public transit authorities

Changes in survey methodology from 2016 to 2018

Estimates for 2018 may not be comparable to those for 2016 because of improved coverage and definitions, and changes in survey methodology, including an expanded target population. From 2016 to 2018, the questionnaire for Canada’s Core Public Infrastructure survey underwent several major changes.

  • The questionnaire was collected through an electronic platform instead of a paper questionnaire.
  • Questions were streamlined to reduce response burden.
  • The survey included a census of all municipalities with at least 1,000 inhabitants, and a sample of municipalities with between 500 and 1,000 inhabitants.
  • For Quebec, the survey was conducted by the Institut de la statistique du Québec.

Information on other asset types will be released over the coming months.