Page 5: Guidance For Providing Safe Drinking Water in Areas of Federal Jurisdiction – Version 2

Part 1 - The Federal Framework

1.0 Setting the stage

1.1 The multi-barrier approach to safe drinking water

The drinking water system can be broken down into three main components: the water source, the treatment system and the distribution system. In each of these areas, steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of contamination before it occurs. The multi-barrier approach to safe drinking water reflects this concept and is based on preventive action.

Variability in source water locations and composition, types of source waters (surface water, groundwater, groundwater under the direct influence of surface water), and range of water treatment processes available make it unlikely that a single solution can be applied to correct every exceedance or upset event. For this reason, health risks are more effectively reduced through planning, designing, and managing the entire drinking water system from source to tap, including implementing barriers at critical points throughout the system. This is done by implementing a multi-barrier approach, which is an integrated system of procedures, processes and tools that collectively prevent or reduce the contamination of drinking water, from source to tap.

In addition to the physical barriers which relate to the three main components, a number of procedures, processes and tools need to be in place which affect all aspects managing and operating the drinking water system. These include stakeholder commitments to develop legislative and/or policy frameworks; guidelines, standards and objectives; research, science and technology solutions; and consumer awareness and involvement.

The application of the multi-barrier approach at the federal level varies from department to department and from site to site. For instance, in cases where the drinking water for a particular facility is supplied by a municipality, a department will need to implement barriers within the building. In cases where a department collects water at the source and then treats and distributes it to consumers, many more barriers will need to be implemented. As a general rule, drinking water provided in areas of federal jurisdiction should meet the quality benchmarks set out in the GCDWQ (see Section 2.1). For more information on the multi-barrier approach and its application to drinking water systems, see CDW and CCME (2004).

1.2 Jurisdictional issues

In Canada, the responsibility for water quality is shared by various levels of government, and involves multi- jurisdictional and cross-disciplinary collaboration. Major stakeholders include federal, provincial, and territorial government departments, municipal and local governments, First Nations band councils, non-governmental organizations, and the public.

Although drinking water quality is generally an area of provincial jurisdiction, the federal government has some responsibilities for drinking water quality, including on federal lands and in First Nations communities located south of 60° N latitude. North of 60° N, the territorial governments are responsible for ensuring safe drinking water in all communities in their territories, including First Nations and Inuit communities. In some instances (e.g., for federal employees), clear legislative obligations are in place to help ensure the safety of drinking water supplies. For example, federal departments have an obligation under the Canada Labour Code and its Occupational Health and Safety Regulations to provide potable water to their employees. In other cases (e.g., visitors to federal lands), ensuring the safety of drinking water supplies is more a matter of due diligence rather than a statutory obligation. The issue of due diligence is discussed further in Section 2.6.

1.2.1 Leased properties

In the case of facilities located on federal land but leased to a third party, the federal government's responsibilities and liabilities are determined on a case-by-case basis. In such cases, responsibilities for drinking water should be clearly laid out and understood before the lease or agreement is signed. Appropriate clauses should be written into the lease agreement.

When the federal government leases buildings or office space from, or is provided accommodation and/or a legislated installation by a third party, it is the government's responsibility as the employer to provide potable water (see section 9.1 or the Canada Labour Code, Part II, Occupational Health and Safety, Section 125).

The federal government's responsibilities regarding leased properties apply to existing leases as well as new ones. For more information on the roles and responsibilities of specific departments, see Chapter 7: Information and Resources.

1.3 Types of water supplies and systems

For the purpose of this document, the following definitions apply to drinking water systems owned or leased by the federal government or First Nations communities. They also apply to water supplies used through arrangements with municipalities (i.e., municipally-supplied federal facilities). Although the same basic principles apply for all drinking water systems, some guidance has been provided in this document that is specific to a given size and/or type of system.

  • Large systems serve more than 5000 people.
  • Small systems serve between 501 and 5000 people.
  • Very small systems serve between 26 and 500 people.
  • Micro-systems serve up to and including 25 people.

In addition to these categories, unique facilities exist, or situations may arise, that require special attention in order to protect public health (see the glossary for examples of unique facilities/situations). In these contexts, it is up to the affected department to determine the most appropriate means of supplying safe drinking water to consumers.

2.0 Federal legislation and policies

This chapter provides an overview of the legislation and policies guiding the provision of safe drinking water in areas of federal jurisdiction. It is not intended to be comprehensive, and therefore the original documents should be consulted for exact wording regarding federal obligations.

2.1 The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality

Recognizing that safe drinking water is a core public health issue, Health Canada works in close collaboration with the provincial and territorial governments to develop the GCDWQ. Using the priorities established by the CDW, Health Canada leads the development of the health risk assessments for drinking water contaminants. The CDW then uses these assessments as the basis for establishing the GCDWQ.

The GCDWQ set out the basic parameters that every water system should strive to achieve in order to provide the cleanest, safest and most reliable drinking water possible. They are used by every jurisdiction in Canada as the basis for establishing their own requirements for drinking water quality, thereby ensuring national consistency.

The most important drinking water quality guidelines deal with microbiological quality, to ensure there is minimal risk of exposure to disease-causing organisms in drinking water. These include bacteriological parameters (e.g., E. coli, total coliforms), enteric viruses and protozoa. Turbidity, while not a microbiological parameter per se, is an important consideration for microbiological quality because spikes in turbidity may be associated with contamination and because turbidity may interfere with disinfection.

Health-based MACs have also been developed for a number of chemical and radiological substances found in drinking water supplies across Canada. While some contaminants are wide-spread (e.g., disinfection by-products), many of the substances may only be found at some locations (i.e., are site-specific), and are unlikely to be a concern for every drinking water supply.

Non health-based guidelines (e.g., aesthetic objectives, operational guidance values) have also been developed. These address parameters which may affect consumer acceptance of the water even though the substance in question is found at concentrations below those at which health effects can appear. These parameters affect general characteristics such as taste, odour, temperature and colour.

Although various editions of the GCDWQ have been referenced, it is recommended to use the most up-to-date version. General information on water quality can be found on Health Canada's water quality website, and the current summary table, guideline technical documents and guidance documents. To stay current, subscribe to Health Canada's listserv, which notifies subscribers of changes to its website.

2.2 The Canada Labour Code

The federal government's legal obligations to its employees as a purveyor of drinking water are described in the Canada Labour Code and its related regulations (Canada Occupational Health and Safety Regulations, the Aviation Occupational Safety and Health Regulations, the On Board Trains Occupational Safety and Health Regulations, and the Oil and Gas Occupational Safety and Health Regulations).

All federal employers must comply with the requirements of the Canada Labour Code and its regulations. Section 125 (1)(j) in Part II requires federal employers to provide potable water to employees in accordance with prescribed standards. The Occupational Health and Safety Regulations prescribe a specific version of the GCDWQ as those standards. In addition to the requirement to provide potable water to employees, Section 125 (1) (z.11) of the Canada Labour Code states that the employer must provide a copy of any report on hazards in the work place, including an assessment of those hazards, to a policy committee, the work place health and safety committee, or to the health and safety representative.

For detailed information on Health and Safety Committees, see the Canada Labour Code, Part II, Occupational Health and Safety, Section 135. You can find the unofficial consolidation. Details about the Code and its regulations, and how they apply to drinking water, are given in section 9.1.

2.3 Other related federal legislation

Three other pieces of federal legislation deal directly or indirectly with drinking water issues relevant to purveyor departments:

  • The Food and Drugs Act;
  • The National Defence Act; and
  • The Corrections and Conditional Release Act.
2.3.1 Food and Drugs Act

(includes regulations for pre-packaged water and ice and water used in food preparation)

Bottled water, which includes all pre-packaged water and ice, is considered to be a food under Canadian law. All bottled water sold in Canada is regulated under the Food and Drugs Act. The current regulations for bottled water are set out in Division 12 of Part B of the Food and Drug Regulations. The website address for the unofficial consolidation of Division 12 of Part B of the Food and Drug Regulations.

As with all foods, bottled water must comply with Section 4 of the Food and Drugs Act which prohibits the sale of foods containing poisonous or harmful substances. It is proposed that when the safety of a particular bottled water is brought into question, the GCDWQ provide the basis for establishing the safety of substances for which no limits are specified in the regulations.

Information on bottled water can be accessed through the Health Canada and Canadian Food Inspection Agency websites.

2.3.2 National Defence Act

The National Defence Act gives the Chief of the Defence Staff certain powers of command, responsibilities and discretion regarding the health protection of members of the Canadian Forces with respect to operational imperatives. Some of these responsibilities are laid out in various directives, policies and standards applicable to drinking water. The website address for the unofficial consolidation of the National Defence Act.

2.3.3 Corrections and Conditional Release Act

Correctional Service Canada is mandated under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act and its supporting regulations to provide safe drinking water for inmates (Corrections and Conditional Release Regulations, 1992). The website address for the unofficial consolidation of this section of the Corrections and Conditional Release Act.

2.4 Occupational Health and Safety Directive - Part IX (Sanitation)

The National Joint Council Occupational Health and Safety Directive - Part IX (Sanitation) (NJC, 2011) replaces the Treasury Board Sanitation Directive. It was co-developed by participating bargaining agents and public service employers, and is hosted by the National Joint Council. The Directive applies to federal employees in all government-owned buildings. Where employees occupy buildings not owned by the federal government, the Directive applies to the maximum extent that is reasonably practicable.

The Directive contains enhancements to the Canada Labour Code Part II, and should be read together with the appropriate sections of the Code and its applicable regulations. It states: "The employer will adhere, as a minimum, to the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, or to any other federally, provincially or territorially appropriate standards and any existing guidelines that provide the higher level of protection to workers."

It includes broad guidance for sanitary facilities, and ensuring sanitary conditions are met for drinking water storage containers and drinking water fountains. In addition, it requires contingency procedures to be developed to address issues such as an interrupted water supply. These procedures are to be developed with the advice of a qualified person and in consultation with the appropriate health and safety committee (See Section 2.2 for more information on health and safety committees). For the sake of convenience, applicable sections of the National Joint Council Occupational Health and Safety Directive can be found in section 9.1.

2.5 Roles and responsibilities in the federal jurisdiction

No single federal department has overall authority for drinking water quality on federal lands. Health Canada provides guidance upon request and leadership, but has no mandate to ensure safe drinking water in the federal house. Each department or responsible authority is in charge of implementing a drinking water program in areas within its mandate and should be accountable for carrying out its duties. However, given the differences in departmental structures, defining precisely who is responsible for drinking water management is beyond the scope of this document and should be determined by each department.

That said, each person involved with drinking water programs needs to know what is expected of them and their level of responsibility. Departments should make sure all required tasks have been assigned to specific, qualified staff. As a reference, examples of the types of roles and responsibilities within some federal departments are given in Appendix C.

Note: While the duties to be performed can be contracted to a third party, the accountability and responsibility for meeting drinking water program objectives remains with the department.

2.6 Due diligence

In addition to meeting regulatory requirements, federal departments, drinking water system operators, and other responsible authorities are expected to be able to demonstrate due diligence in carrying out their duties (whether these duties are regulated or not).

Demonstrating due diligence means taking every precaution reasonable in the given circumstances to avoid harm. It also means having mechanisms in place to deal with non-compliance and for holding employees accountable for their decisions and actions. The following programs are examples of what may constitute a proper exercise of due diligence:

  • Employer leadership/employee input;
  • Hazard identification/assessment (vulnerabilities assessment);
  • Hazard elimination/control;
  • Training;
  • Monitoring;
  • Enforcement;
  • Documentation; and
  • Communication.
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