2012 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study: Majority of Canadians Believe Their Local Water Infrastructure Is Good Enough for Now
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 2012 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study to download a copy of the survey and learn more about the findings.
National ‘pipe dream’ flies in face of reports outlining critical infrastructure gap
Canadians believe that maintaining our drinking water supply is one of the most important areas for government funding (behind hospitals and tied with schools). Yet, more than 80 per cent feel there is no need for major and immediate investment in their community’s drinking water/wastewater facilities, which they believe to be in good condition, and in need of only minor investment for upkeep. Ironically, more than a third of Canadians (37 per cent) who use municipal water are not very aware of the condition of the water and sewage infrastructure serving their own home.
“Canadians believe in the safety of their drinking water and assume that the infrastructure that provides it is efficient,” says Bob Sandford, Chair, Canadian Partnership Initiative of the UN Water for Life Decade. “This is a national ‘pipe dream’ because in many municipalities, water distribution and sewage pipes can be up to 80 years old and have already reached the end of their service life. In fact, reports have shown there is an $88-billion investment required to repair and build new water infrastructure in communities across Canada.”
According to the fifth annual RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, more than three-quarters of respondents (78 per cent) stated their main source of water comes from the municipal water supply. While the majority felt that their municipalities were doing a good job at maintaining current water and sewage systems to prevent breakages in the short term (68 per cent), they were less impressed with the municipalities’ work on upgrading these systems for the long term (61 per cent). However, only a quarter (22 per cent) would be willing to pay through a water bill or taxes into an infrastructure fund to upgrade drinking water/wastewater facilities in their community.
“Investments in water infrastructure maintenance are chronically underfunded and often deferred. This is causing a multitude of issues not immediately associated in the minds of Canadians with water quality and supply,” notes Sandford.
More than half of Canadians (54 per cent) have been inconvenienced by a water related issue in the past two years. A backed-up drain, boil-water warnings, water bans/use restrictions or closed beaches due to poor water quality tell a larger story of the disconnect between Canadians’ confidence in water quality and infrastructure, and the issues that they are actually facing.
“All of these inconveniences highlight the failing infrastructure in many Canadian municipalities. What may seem like minor issues in our own backyards represents a larger problem with regard to our country’s water,” says Sandford. “We have found that Canadians are confident in freshwater as a lasting resource but don’t understand the potential impact inconsistent infrastructure maintenance can have on the supply, quality and cost of water.”
Canadians’ level of confidence in the safety and quality of the country’s drinking water has increased significantly over the past four years to 88 per cent in 2012, up from 81 per cent in 2009. This confidence helps explain why almost half of Canadians (49 per cent) believe freshwater is the country’s most important natural resource, with the exception of Albertans who ranked oil first, followed by fresh water. Eighty-one per cent of the population feels confident that their regions have enough fresh water to meet long-term needs.
And, while respondents reported that they try to conserve water, they also take it for granted. Almost half leave the water running in the kitchen when washing and rinsing dishes (44 per cent), while 12 per cent hose down their driveways, and 14 per cent admit to flushing things down the toilet that should be disposed of in another manner.
Chris Coulter, GlobeScan’s president, adds “We have been polling on water issues for 25 years. This survey is a tale of romance between Canadians and their treasured water. But there’s a significant gap between romance and reality. We found a troubling lack of awareness not only about water conservation but also the very pressing need for investment in infrastructure. Mobilizing the political will to deal with these issues will be a challenge.”