Canadian Water and Wastewater Association eBulletin

Water Haller: Lead, Manganese and Maintaining Confidence in Drinking Water

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Always remembering that our first purpose, the main reason we exist as an association, is to advocate for our water/wastewater sector at the national level, we are busy right out of the gates this year. As we participate in the federal government process of policy development, there are a few major pieces of policy being released in the next few months. 

February should see the release of new guidelines from Health Canada concerning Manganese (Mn). The guidelines greatly reduce the Aesthetic Objective (AO) while also introducing a health-based MAC (Maximum Acceptable Concentration); the first and only nation with a MAC on Manganese. Addressing these new guidelines will take both time and significant investment by many of our members – mostly those on groundwater sources. This is expected to have a very significant impact on First Nations communities.

In March, we expect Health Canada to release the final version of the new guidelines for Lead (Pb). The new guidelines cut the MAC in half – once again putting us out front of most other nations. The trick with lead is that we cannot just address this with a lot of money. While the costs to address lead are very large, and will require assistance for many communities, this is more a challenge of time, legal authority and public motivation. We know that the presence of lead in our water systems is not in our plants or water mains, but in the service laterals or the plumbing and fixtures within private homes, buildings and institutions. So we cannot remove all lead without the participation of the property owners. But the guideline calls for us to test for lead from the tap within these homes and not from within our distribution system. 

So we, the utilities, understand the challenges, and Health Canada understands our challenges, but how will this play out with regulators in each province and territory? And more importantly, how will this play out with the media and the general public? Our greatest concern is about how these new guidelines will be portrayed by the media and how this could seriously affect the public’s confidence in their municipal tap water. So CWWA’s Drinking Water Quality Committee, with support from AWWA, is trying to get out front of this issue and prepare communications materials to address these issues rationally. We are working with Health Canada and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) to share a communications strategy that expresses our full support for reducing lead to meet these new goals, but recognizing the challenges of money, time, and the significant role of the property owner. We also propose additional duties for the federal and provincial governments to provide funding to both municipalities and homeowners and to incentivize property owners to take action. 

CWWA is preparing a number of Fact Sheets and Media Speaking Notes on Lead and Manganese for use by our members to speak to their councils, their public and the media. These will be coming to you in the coming weeks so that you have them in advance of the release dates. These communications will be shared with FCM to distribute directly to the elected municipal officials across Canada, as well as to provincial ministries and to health units. But the main message is, "Your water is safe.  It was safe under the old guidelines and is safe today. We have agreed to new ‘goals’ to make it even safer, but this will take a major investment of money and time by both the municipal utility AND the property owner.”

Other guidelines are coming for Uranium and later concerning Protozoa. Meanwhile, we’re still working with Public Safety Canada and Natural Resources Canada on flood risk and national flood mapping. We are also working with Public Safety Canada for standards for cyber security and resilience and continue to work with Environment Canada and Fisheries & Oceans with regard to wastewater effluent regulations. We’re working toward a standard for ‘flushable’ products and developing resources for those of us dealing with biosolids. 

 So ….you just received your CWWA membership renewal and wondering if we provide value to your community? …We hope these efforts cement your support!