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Drinking water regulations and standards

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. Municipalities want to be involved in reviewing drinking water regulations. It is important drinking water standards and regulations are realistic for municipalities to meet and that higher order of government provides necessary financial support to help municipalities to transition.

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.

Canadian drinking water quality guidelines

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 Appendix D of AUMA’s Water Primer and Discussion Paper.

Alberta Drinking Water Regulations and Standards

In Alberta, municipal water systems are governed by the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act (EPEA), 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 have a Drinking Water Safety Plan (DWSP).

A drinking water safety plan is a proactive method of assessing risk to drinking water quality, which better protects public health. Plans are based on an assessment of risk factors that could potentially adversely affect drinking water quality. Assessments consider such things as:

  • The source of the water;
  • How drinking water is treated; and
  • How treated water is stored and distributed.

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.

Alberta Environment and Water has developed a template to assist operators in preparing a DWSP, Click here to find the template and access 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.

For more information on AUMA’s Water Policies