Water: frequently asked questions

Drinking water

Where can I find guidelines for the maximum acceptable concentrations of contaminants in drinking water?

Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality - a booklet which identifies parameters (microbiological, physical, chemical, and radiological) that have been found in drinking water and are known, or suspected to be harmful -- is produced by Health Canada in cooperation with the health and environment ministries of the provinces and territories, under the auspices of the Federal-Provincial Subcommittee on Drinking Water. Information on this publication is available on Health Canada's Web site.

Education and outreach

Where can I apply for funding if my group would like to get involved in environmental conservation and protection in my community?

EcoAction is an Environment Canada funding program that helps groups to implement projects that protect or enhance the environment in their community.

Visit this page for more information on this and other Environment Canada funding programs.

Water pollution

I am researching a project on water pollution in Canada. Where can I find information?

One important source of information is the section of this site on Water Pollution.

What are the principle sources of groundwater contamination?

There are many areas across Canada that are affected by groundwater contamination. We would suggest that you visit our Groundwater Contamination page.

Water quantity

How much fresh water does Canada have?

Canada has 7% of the world's renewable fresh water.

It is easy for Canadians to assume that they have an almost endless supply of clean, fresh water. After all, we're often told that Canada has some 20% of the world's total freshwater resources. However, less than half of this water -- about 7% of the global supply -- is "renewable". Most of it is fossil water retained in lakes, underground aquifers, and glaciers.

For Canada's 30 million people -- about half a percent of the world's population -- this is still a generous endowment. But, more than half of this water drains northward into the Arctic Ocean and Hudson Bay. As a result, it is unavailable to the 85% of the Canadian population who live along the country's southern border. That means the remaining supply, while still abundant, is heavily used and often overly stressed.

Why do people call water a "renewable" resource?

Water may be considered an inexhaustible resource because the total supply of water in the biosphere is not affected by human activities. Water is not destroyed by human uses, although it may be held for a time in combination with other chemicals. To be useful, however, water must be in a particular place and of a certain quality, and so it must be regarded as a renewable, and often scarce, resource, with cycling times that depend on its location and use.

Water that falls from the atmosphere as various types of precipitation and then runs off the land surface to form streams and rivers that eventually reach the ocean, generally operates on a one-year-renewable cycle known as the hydrologic cycle. From the ocean the water is evaporated by solar energy and returned to the atmosphere, from which it again falls as rain or some other form of precipitation.

In certain locations, however, water has a much longer cycling time; after entering the ground from rainfall, it may percolate slowly through underground channels until it reaches underground reservoirs. In certain arid regions, the total water supply may be underground water that accumulated during past ages, when the climate of the region was more humid. Since that time there may have been little or no addition to this supply because of the existing climatic conditions. Because its cycling time may be extremely long and dependent upon the frequency with which wet and dry climates alternate in a particular region, such a water resource can be virtually nonrenewable.

How do I get streamflow data on Canada's water resources?

All historical water survey data for specific locations throughout Canada is available on Environment Canada's Web site. These data include: daily and monthly means of flow; water levels; and, sediment concentrations (for sediment sites). For some sites, peaks and extremes are also recorded. For information on data availability, contact: Water Survey of Canada.

Where can I find information on Great Lakes water levels?

Environment Canada's Great Lakes section contains a great deal of information on water levels, including the "Level News".

The Canadian Hydrographic Service (DFO) also posts information on recent water levels on the Great Lakes.


Have other questions?

A Primer on Fresh Water: Questions and Answers is one of Environment Canada's most popular publications. It provides answers to over 130 additional questions relating to Canada's water resources.

Page details

Date modified: