RELATION OF WATER AND SANITATION SERVICES WITH HEALTH, ENVIRONMENT AND SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
The vast majority of Canadas citizens and residents enjoy fully satisfactory water and sanitation services on a continuing basis. Drinking water supplied and sanitation services in place, whether through central services or stand-alone systems operated by the individual, largely meet current health and environmental guidelines. Waterborne diseases are not generally considered a problem in Canada, and only occasional outbreaks of protozoan related diseases have been detected - perhaps two to three instances per year of Cryptosporidiosis or Giardiosis. Active monitoring and reporting of water quality conditions result in boil water advisories being issued by local health authorities on the detection of microbial contamination of drinking water. In an average year, some 500 boil water advisories normally of 3 to 4 day durations, are issued in respect to municipal water supply services, often following severe environmental conditions affecting the quality of the water supply source. In total, less than 0.003% of treatment plant/days/year are estimated to be subject to boil water advisories.
Water and sanitation services are provided as a public sector service based on costs (although not full costs) at affordable prices which are well under their value to society. Private sector pricing for bottled water (based on value) can be 500 to 2000 times the price of safe, municipally provided water. Generally there is equity in access to such services across the country and between economic and social groups within society. Where drinking water qualities are poor, it is often the consequence of difficult environmental conditions such as those encountered in arid or in boggy areas of the country, and normally reflected in the quality of water supplied from surface sources through small central systems or by individuals themselves. Microbiological hazards in wastewater effluents discharged into fresh water bodies are considered to be controlled, although there is some concern for the presence of chlorinated effluents and heavy metals in some effluent streams. There is concern generally for the discharge of effluents into marine (rather than freshwater) environments since these in the past have been and remain largely untreated discharges. It is planned that this situation will be remedied over the coming 5 to 10 years with major investments in STP for coastal cities and towns.
While areas for improvement in both water and sanitation systems can be identified, generally speaking, these systems serve the country and Canadians well, and are effectively without problem or concern that their quality or price is not questioned - rather, they are simply taken for granted by all Canadians. Like most municipal services, sustainability is not seriously being questioned although there are continuing issues of funding. The character of the infrastructure and the way it is operated is that actual budgets allow for replacement on a 300 year cycle, where the need is for a 100 year cycle, and the political horizon is usually about 3 years.
For those citizens and residents who do not enjoy adequate public or environmental health standards, specific programs are in place to remedy the situation over the coming five years or so. These citizens and residents are primarily although, not always members of Canadas First Nations peoples living in remote communities in arctic or sub-arctic conditions or in remote northern communities, often without year-round transportation services. New technologies are being tested to determine if alternatives to conventional water and sanitation services will provide economic and acceptable solutions. The new technologies include on-site recycling of grey waters as a potential to reducing the financial and logistical burden of trucked water delivery as well as advanced micro- and ultra-filtration systems for small central systems. A concern about these alternative systems is whether or not they can be readily maintained in the remote communities. In parallel, for both these and for conventional water treatment systems and processes is the need for human capacity development in the First Nations so that the communities themselves can provide water and wastewater operators to operate and maintain the systems in place.
Where acceptable drinking water services are provided, there remains essentially two issues to be remedied. The first issue is the delivery of microbiologically safe water while at the same time controlling the generation of disinfection by-products. The second is economic/financial: that costs of the services are not fully accounted for and reflected in the prices charged for the service. This tends to encourage over-use or mis-use while at the same time not providing sufficient revenues to generate the necessary investment capital to replace aging infrastructures and processes. The matter of financial planning horizons as a contributor to the economic/financial issue has already been mentioned. In both cases, efforts are being made to resolve these issues by the parties concerned.
Even where wastewater treatment facilities are considered to be state-of-the-art, there remains concern over the presence of heavy metals and persistent, bio-accumulative toxics such as dioxins and furans in the effluent streams, particularly in the biosolids and de-watered sludges. A considerable scientific effort is being made to better understand these environmental risks and to determine what might be done about them - the increasing ability to lower detection limits is exceeding the ability of scientists to determine the health and environmental effects. In municipalities where discharge to marine environments occurs, efforts are being made to invest in new treatment infrastructures in order to better protect the marine and estuarine aquatic ecosystems.
There are also two broad trends apparent in Canadas water and sanitation services. First: water quality requirements are continuously being strengthened by scientific research into health and environmental effects on both the water supply and the sanitation sides. As a result, Canadians are enjoying safe public drinking water with continuously improving qualities. Environmental water quality is being improved through the improvement in effluent discharge qualities and other prevention of pollution programs applicable to the use of pesticides and fertilisers or in the control of industrial effluents such as from pulp and paper industries and mining operations. Risks to public health from water quality are small when compared to those linked to such life-style choices as diet, and alcohol or tobacco consumption. The issue of scientific certainty and the questions of balancing microbial and chemical health risks and the achievement of public health goals while incurring environmental risks remain contentious and without resolution. Secondly, water supply engineers and sanitation engineers are increasingly recognizing that activities and initiatives in the one area may profoundly impact on the other: for example, water demand management (to reduce demand on water supply systems) will affect the generation and disposal demands for wastewaters - thus benefits of the former can influence positively the latter. As a result, investments previously funded only by the water or the wastewater services are now being justified by benefits flowing to both services. Equally, improved sanitation services will affect raw water quality in the environment, thus making drinking water treatment processes of downstream plants simpler. This benefit which is external to the investing utility is often supported by senior level government subsidy. The integration of drinking and wastewater management programs is thus increasingly being exhibited.
It is estimated that the total annual operating cost of water and sanitation services is greater than US $2.75 billions while the revenue generated from user fees is to the order of US $ 2.1 billions. The difference is made up from general municipal revenues (e.g., property taxes or subsidies from senior levels of government). There are approximately 9,000 public water and wastewater treatment systems in the country serving more than 24,000,000 Canadians. These include about 2,500 municipally owned water and sewer treatment plants located in and serving urban Canadians and approximately 6,500 privately owned and operated systems providing public services in or at trailer parks and recreational facilities such as camp grounds, golf courses and ski facilities, etc. They have more than 250,000 kms of trunk water mains and sewers. The total cost of replacement of this infrastructure has been estimated at between US$100 and US$200 millions, and an annual investment of some US$3 billions has been estimated as being necessary over the period 1997 to 2012 to bring all treatment plants and collection/distribution systems up to a common current standard. Although the infrastructure is essentially publicly owned, the private sector offers a wide range of services to the municipal governments, and of the 24 million Canadians receiving central services, approximately 6 million of those receive services operated by contractors to the municipal government concerned.
Some 300,000 Canadians are directly employed in the operation of these municipal services, and although statistics are not available for those employed in the private supplier sector, it is likely to be to the same order. There is an active private sector supplier industry of consulting engineers, suppliers of chemicals and other products and services such as pipes, valves and pumps, and excavation and construction, with a tendency towards some degree of concentration in all sectors. National enterprises are being formed in all aspects of the private sector, reflecting perhaps a trend in the municipal sector to larger, often amalgamated communities and in any case reflects the effects of globalization of commerce - Canadian firms are being both bought by multinationals, and are becoming multinational themselves. At the same time, there remains room in the economy for smaller enterprises to service the local needs of the smaller communities. What may be being lost in this transition is the self-standing medium-sized business enterprise.