2013 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study: Urban-dwellers ill-prepared for impact of Mother Nature on water



Note to Reader:

Most Canadians take water for granted. We think we have lots of it and it will always be there. So in 2008, RBC started polling Canadians about their attitudes towards water—to see if the serious water issues around the world were having an impact on how Canadians use and think about water, and tracking whether attitudes are changing.

Since 2008, RBC has made the poll results freely available to NGOs and other interested parties. RBC has encouraged the broad dissemination of the data and its findings because RBC wants to help contribute to a healthy conversation about the value and vulnerability of water in Canada.

Click on  2013 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study to download a copy of the survey and learn more about the findings.



Urban sprawl and paved paradise threaten clean fresh water today and tomorrow, says leading expert

While nine-in-10 (90 per cent) Canadians believe that an extreme weather-related disaster is possible in their community, town or city, few are aware of the consequences if excess water caused by rain and snow storms is not managed properly. In towns and cities across Canada, paved surfaces, overloaded storm water management infrastructure and extreme weather conditions dramatically increase the challenge of managing excess water caused by storms.

“Extreme storms have a direct impact on water, as storm water runoff can drag contaminants into local waterways and pollute water bodies that are important forrecreation and water supplies,” says Bob Sandford, chair of Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade.

“All the impermeable surfaces in cities create the ideal condition for excess water to overwhelm our already strained municipal storm water systems. Municipalities, property developers and homeowners must work together to better manage storm water.”

Ahead of World Water Day on March 22, the sixth annual 2013 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, commissioned by the RBC Blue Water Project and administered by GlobeScan, found that while two-thirds of Canadians (68 per cent) say that we should be prepared for the possibility of a major disaster that affects storm water management systems, only one-in-five (19 per cent) believe that major actions are required now.


What are Canadians willing to do to help?

This is not just a municipal planning issue. Sandford says that individual Canadians could be doing their part to manage excess water from rain and snowstorms around their homes now. Yet, according to the study, few Canadians have taken preventive measures such as landscaping with grading (23 per cent) or replacing paved surfaces with water-permeable materials such as interlocking stone or gravel (seven per cent).

Paved and impermeable surfaces are part of the problem. Half (47 per cent) of Canadians say their ‘ideal’ house has a paved driveway or yard – and the majority of these wouldn’t change this preference even when told about the positive impact of permeable surfaces, which allow rainwater and melted snow to seep slowly into the ground rather than causing polluted runoff. Only one-in-ten (12 per cent) Canadians indicated that they would replace paved surfaces with water-permeable materials such as interlocking stone.

“Canadians continue to have a love affair with paved driveways, and there’s a serious trickle-down effect. With impermeable sidewalks, roadways and parking lots added to the mix, we’ve actually created the ideal condition for excess water to overwhelm our already strained municipal water and storm water systems,” says Sandford.

According to the study, most Canadians say that they plan to take measures to help prevent water damage in and around their home in the coming year such as maintaining eavestroughs and downspouts (64 per cent) and adding landscaping such as grading (33 per cent).

“In most cities across Canada, infrastructure is crumbling and in urgent need of replacement or repair. It’s time for a wake-up call,” says Sandford. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities estimates cost of replacement for drinking water, wastewater and storm water infrastructure reported to be in ‘fair’ or ‘very poor’ condition to be approximately $80 billion.

A large majority of Canadians (78 per cent) continue to trust that their municipal water infrastructure is in good condition and don’t see a need for major investments. Despite this confidence, just 15 per cent of Canadians admit to being ‘very aware’ of the condition of their municipal water infrastructure. Additionally, an overwhelming number of Canadians (80 per cent) are not willing to pay for necessary storm water management system upgrades.



Highlights of the 2013 Study

In March 2013, RBC hosted a webinar discussion and shared insights from the 6th annual survey on Canadian attitudes toward water. Bob Sandford and Chris Coulter (President of GlobeScan) presented the findings and implications from this quantitative survey of 2,000 Canadians, the most comprehensive of its kind in the world.

Click on Review a recording of the full webinar to view the co-presentation by Bob Sandford and Chris Coulter. To download their PowerPoint slides, click here.


Canada’s Most Important Natural Resource

Forty-seven per cent believe fresh water is Canada’s most important natural resource, down from 55 per cent in 2012.

Sixteen per cent say agricultural land is most important.

Fifteen per cent believe oil is Canada’s most important, except in Alberta, where 41 per cent thought oil was most important.


Water Conservation Behaviours

Sixty-nine per cent of Canadians are trying reasonably hard to conserve water, slightly down from 71 per cent in 2012.

One-in-10 Canadians use an automated sprinkler system.

Thirty per cent of Canadian homeowners use rain barrels or other devices to collect rainwater runoff.


Pavement / Driveways

Fifty-four per cent of Canadians have paved driveways.

Forty-seven per cent say their ideal house has a paved driveway.

Sixty per cent of 18-34 year olds would give up a paved driveway to help water management.

Only 24 per cent of urban dwellers have unpaved or water permeable driveways.