Proceedings of the Standing Senate Committee on
Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources

Issue 4 - Evidence - November 30, 2004


OTTAWA, Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources met this day at 5:08 p.m. to examine and report on emerging issues related to its mandate.

Senator Ethel Cochrane (Deputy Chairman) in the Chair.

[English]

The Deputy Chairman: Senators, even though we do not have a quorum because so many events are happening on the Hill today, we will open our meeting and, hopefully, some members will join us.

We have with us from the Canadian Water Network, Ms. Bernadette Conant, Executive Director and Mr. Mark Servos, Scientific Director. I would introduce to you Senator Christensen from the Yukon, and Senator Milne from Ontario. I am Senator Cochrane from Newfoundland. Senator Lavigne is from Quebec.

In our study on water, it is important that we hear from key people, such as yourselves, from the Canadian Water Network. Do you have an opening statement, Mr. Servos?

Mr. Mark Servos, Scientific Director, Canadian Water Network: Yes.

The Deputy Chairman: Ms. Conant, do you have a brief?

Ms. Bernadette Conant, Executive Director, Canadian Water Network: I am here to support the responses to questions, if necessary.

Mr. Servos: I would thank the committee for the invitation and the opportunity to appear before you. You should be commended for focussing your efforts on water, since it is a critical issue of importance to all Canadians. Water touches every aspect of our lives and directly influences the economic prosperity and the quality of life of Canadians. It will be the key issue of the next decade.

The implications for developing countries are massive. In 2003, the WorldWater Assessment Programme estimated that 1.1 billion people globally lacked improved water supply and 2.4 billion people did not have improved sanitation. The consequences of this preventable situation are an estimated 5 million deaths and 2.4 billion cases of illness annually.

The UN second World Water Forum accepted the challenge to reduce by one half the number of people without access to adequate, affordable safe drinking water and sanitation by the year 2015. This is a tremendous challenge for the entire world.

We in Canada are privileged to have an abundance of fresh water. We have more than 6 per cent of the world's fresh water but less than 1 per cent of the world's population. We have a special responsibility to be good stewards of this resource. Nevertheless, as evidenced by recent events, we have taken this resource for granted, and enormous challenges remain.

The tragedy in Walkerton drew enormous attention to the issue of clean, safe water. Although considerable changes have been made in response to Walkerton and related events such as the one in North Battleford, Canadians do not appear to be giving serious attention to water quality and availability issues.

Aging infrastructure, increased demands on water for a diversity of municipal, industrial and agriculture uses, climate change and declining resources will continue to present challenges for protection of public health, ecosystems and the economy.

Making modifications to existing and new treatment systems or management practices to address these issues will have implications for future public and industrial expenditures. Canadian business spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year on water-related pollution prevention technologies. The infrastructure for the renewal of water and waste water treatment in Canada is expected to cost billions of dollars. Addressing these issues presents not only numerous challenges but also numerous opportunities, nationally and globally.

We are fortunate in Canada to be leaders in water research and management. Canadian institutions, such as the National Water Research Institute, are international leaders in the field. We have invested greatly in our university community, especially in recent years, and we have enormous talent and expertise in water issues. Canadian companies are among the world leaders in providing innovative technologies to solve water issues. Companies such Alcan, Trojan Technologies, and Zenon are global leaders in water management in technology.

Why have we not solved all the problems? You have already heard from Madame Johanne Gélinas and Dr. John Carey that issues related to water are tremendously broad and extremely complex. In addition, the governance structure and framework within Canada presents a particular challenge.

Nineteen different departments are involved in water at the federal level alone. The provinces have jurisdiction over most of the issues relating to water and health. Local governments are often charged with implementing policies without proper resources or expertise.

If you look at climate change as an example, you see that it is clearly a national issue, but many of the required actions need provincial support and the effects will be felt at the local level. The anticipated change in the frequency and intensity in rainfall will have huge implications for our urban, as well as rural, infrastructures. Changes in water quantity are, therefore, directly linked to the quality of the water. The solutions will not be simple.

We know very little about our water resources and ecosystems. We need fundamental knowledge about many aspects of these critical national resources. Just as importantly, we need to share the knowledge and the expertise more effectively in the future to solve existing and emerging issues related to water.

The Canadian Water Network was created in 2001 as one of the national Networks of Centres of Excellence in support of Canada's innovation strategy. The network aims to create a national partnership in innovation that promotes environmentally responsible stewardship and opportunities with respect to Canada's water resources resulting in sustained prosperity and an improved quality of life for Canadians.

The network tries to achieve this mission by: providing credible and trusted sources of expert knowledge on water issues; building scientific and human resource capacity to address water issues; and building a network that serves as a connector and catalyst to capitalize on opportunities, leverage resources, and translate scientific research — into which we have invested so much — and change that knowledge into action.

The CWN now has approximately 120 researchers plus a similar number of collaborators as well as 200 students distributed nationally across 31 different universities.

After considerable consultation over the last year, the Canadian Water Network has identified three priority areas for further emphasis in the water area. The three areas are public health, the protection of water sheds and ecosystems, and ensuring sustainable water infrastructure. Within each of these areas, the network has identified a number of key challenges presented to us as Canadians. You have been provided with a more detailed description of each of these in your handouts.

We need to move beyond our traditional approaches, and we need innovative, integrated solutions that include natural science, engineering, technology and the social sciences. The key challenges identified by the Canadian Water Network are only a fraction of the issues faced by water managers across Canada. Just down the way today there is a conference by the Canadian Water and Wastewater Association. They will be talking about a number of these challenges with the municipalities and others.

The key challenges in the area of protecting public health include ensuring a focus on priorities for safe water among competing risks based on evidence. With limited resources, we must ensure that we address and reduce the most relevant risks and not be distracted in our resolve to remove these threats. We need to improve the capability of small and remote communities to ensure clean, safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. It is these small systems that are most vulnerable and have the least capability to address the problems.

We must have the ability to rapidly identify and effectively respond to recognized or emerging waterborne disease threats. In most cases, by the time that we have measured the threat, the community has already been exposed. We need systems to alert us of the problems early and to respond quickly to protect public health.

Within the issue of protecting watersheds and ecosystems, the key challenges include developing water management strategies for watershed-scale applications. Integrated watershed management is a real challenge. Water does not respect political boundaries and watersheds often include local, provincial and international jurisdictions.

Another challenge is developing strategies to balance human and ecosystem demands for water. Water is important for human consumption, bus it is also a critical economic driver for industrial and municipal development. The allocation of water must also recognize the importance of the ecosystems and the critical functions that ecosystems provide. In many watersheds water has become a scarce resource that needs to be carefully managed and allocated.

Another challenge is improving our understanding of factors affecting water quality and advancing conceptual models of decision making. Unfortunately, we know very little about our water resources and the ecosystems that they support.

The final priority area is ensuring sustainable water infrastructure. The key challenges include water quality master planning for integration of infrastructure. It is not just the development of the technologies that we need, but also foresight into how we will exploit innovations and incorporate them into the planning and replacing of our aging infrastructure in a sustainable way.

The cost of replacing our infrastructure will be enormous. Particular emphasis is needed for renewing underground infrastructure and developing new technologies to assess and replace these systems. The rebuilding of rural and small scale infrastructures will require particular attention.

We need to develop innovative techniques for storm and waste water management and treatment that will meet the challenges of both existing and emerging threats. Climate change may introduce new pathogens to the Canadian environment and new technologies may cause new concerns. We never considered pharmaceuticals as environmental contaminants until recently, but emerging technologies, such as genetic engineering and nanotechnology, may present not only new challenges, but also new opportunities to protect Canadian water.

We must solve the environmental challenges of clean safe water to ensure a sustained and prosperous Canada. We clearly get great value from our current investments in water science and management. However, we need to do much more.

We are not investing as much in research and development as we should to ensure a prosperous future for Canadians. We need national leadership. We need to bring attention to the importance of water and the need for a national strategy for the management of water. We need to connect and capitalize on the resources in government, industry and academia to determine our common goals. We need to actively foster innovation in both the private and public sectors. We have an opportunity to take global leadership in water stewardship. We need to take action. We cannot afford to just stand back and hope that it will all happen.

I trust that the committee will be a catalyst that will move us forward in addressing the challenges facing us today and in the future in respect of water.

The Deputy Chairman: You spoke to many concerns that are similar to those raised in our most recent study on the Kyoto Protocol, which was published just last week.

On page 8 of your notes, the last paragraph, it is stated: ``We never considered pharmaceuticals as environmental contaminants until recently...'' Would you comment on genetic engineering and nanotechnology, which will present new challenges?

Mr. Servos: I was trying to provide some examples of items that people are considering and working on. In the field of nanotechnology, scientists are creating molecules that we have never seen before and those could, potentially, enter the environment. We do not understand how they will behave or the nature of their toxicology. In the field of genetic engineering, we will be changing microbes in a variety of ways in the future. We need to be concerned about the implications of that work should any of those microbes enter the environment because they can cause changes.

The Deputy Chairman: Tell us about the national strategy.

Mr. Servos: Do you want to know what I think should happen?

The Deputy Chairman: Exactly.

Mr. Servos: That is the big challenge. ``National'' is the key word. We have a variety of federal programs working on specific mandates. We have provincial governments with mandates to manage water, and we have a guy at the drinking water plant or at the sewage treatment plant who has to make the decisions on a day-to-day basis. These are all related. There are many barriers in many jurisdictions that make it difficult to achieve the goals.

We need a national vision of what we want to do with water in order to protect and manage it. This has to be more than just the federal mandates and it has to be a truly national issue that incorporates industry, governments and academics in non-government organizations.

The Deputy Chairman: It would include the municipalities as well.

Mr. Servos: Municipalities deliver clean water to us. They are a diffuse group and it is difficult to disseminate information to them, although they are hungry for it. Municipalities want to do what is right with our water. We need mechanisms to scientifically inform municipalities quickly so that they can continue to protect us.

Senator Milne: Mr. Servos, where does the International Joint Commission, IJC, fit into your efforts at the Canadian Water Network? I am quite concerned about what is happening with the IJC and the recent move by the governors of the Great Lakes States to unilaterally decide whether they will take water out of the Great Lakes without going through the IJC.

Mr. Servos: That is a good question. I am not sure if I am qualified to address bulk-water-removal issues. From the network's point of view, that has been of interest to a number of the researchers. We are a network of scientists within the university community and we are tightly linked to other government and industry scientists who try to address the problems in partnership.

The bulk-water issue is truly interesting. We need to make a good, sound argument about what diversions of that water will mean to our ecosystems. It is my understanding that there is no extra water, although people think that Canada has a great deal of clean, safe water.

Senator Milne: I believe that it is only the top few inches. That is all we have.

Mr. Servos: Yes, and it has uses beyond drinking water. Healthy ecosystems provide us with an enormous amount in terms of having a clean environment and clean water. If we do not pay attention and protect those ecosystems, we will not have the clean water that we need.

If that water is removed downstream, there will be huge implications for us in dealing with our own environmental problems.

One of our theme leaders is Dr. Mohammed Dore at Brock University who is an economist working on a number of bulk-water related issues. Interestingly, our network works with economists, engineers and biologists to address some of the problems.

Senator Milne: Another problem is that we only have the top few inches of the water in the Great Lakes. Water deeper than that is considered to be fossil water because it has been static for a long time.

The City of Toronto, in an effort to reduce the amount of pollution pouring into the air, is beginning to use some of that colder water from greater depths in the lake as a source of air conditioning. They will circulate the air through downtown buildings in Toronto during the hotter months. Is anybody working on the long-term implications of this kind of climate change within the lake?

Mr. Servos: Many people, particularly at the National Water Research Institute, are working on this. Dr. John Carey, from whom you heard, and his institute have done quite a bit of work related to climate change. We have had facilities that use water for cooling for a long time, so a great deal of information is available about the impacts of withdrawing thermal plumes and those kinds of efforts. Power plants use it for cooling as well.

In the summer, the water warms up, but a barrier is created and the water at greater depths stays very cold. If you swim at the Burlington beach after a storm, you find that the water is extremely cold, even in the middle of the summer, because the storm causes the cold water to rise up. It is a resource that people are trying to use.

Each time we try to create a new technology we have to ensure that we are protecting the environment and not creating a new problem that has more implications that will be more difficult and more expensive to solve in the long run. We need to look at water as an economic driver — an opportunity — as well as something that we need to protect and cherish.

Senator Milne: These are good questions but I am not getting too many answers.

Senator Christensen: There is a lot of denial around the issue of water. We turn on the tap and we get clean water; we flush the toilet and we get rid of waste. That is about as far as anybody wants to think about it. How do we go about making people more aware of all of the consequences of everything we do in our daily lives, regardless of where it is, that impacts on our water and on us eventually?

We heard recently that pharmaceuticals are becoming an issue as contaminants in our water system. I do not know why that should be a surprise to anybody. Having antibiotics used as extensively as they have been, and overused, has become a major problem. We are over prescribing them.

Senator Milne: We are excreting more of them.

Senator Christensen: Once you put something into the environment, it stays in the environment one way or another. Why are people only now saying, ``Oh, my goodness, it is in our water. How did that happen?''

Mr. Servos: There are two questions. The first is: Why do people not seem to pay attention? Dr. Steve Hrudey — and some of you will attend his talk on Thursday morning, I think, as part of the NCE program — just wrote a book on safe drinking water. He goes through a number of incidences such as Walkerton, North Battleford, Milwaukee and Sydney. He questions why were we not vigilant enough to be able to prevent these outbreaks. Why are we becoming complacent?

Walkerton has changed. A lot has changed since Walkerton in terms of water policy, implementing programs, training and those kinds of things. However, an ordinary person still does not truly value water. We need to get our message out to those people.

This is not just science, it has a social science side. We must ensure that people understand that everything they do, every day, affects water. When they wash their cars the water goes down storm drains. People don't think about where it goes after it goes down that pipe. We have to change people's perspective so that they are conscious of the amount they use, the demand on that water, and the management of the resource.

Senator Christensen: How do you suggest that we make those changes without scaring everybody?

Mr. Servos: I live in Waterloo. I have lived there for about a year. You would not think of Waterloo, in an area surrounded by the Great Lakes, as a place that has a water issue or water problem. Yet, Waterloo has a limited amount of water in the watershed. That particular community has started to take conservation seriously because they will start to run out. It will be extremely expensive to bring it back upstream and treat it from Lake Erie or wherever. People in Waterloo are starting to slowly understand that they have to have low-flow toilets, wash their cars with only a little bit of water, and water their grass only on certain days.

A continuous program in that community for many years has convinced people to do it. The program must be persistent.

The also asked about pharmaceuticals. I have a research chair at the University of Waterloo. That happens to be the area of research that I do, related to endocrine disrupters and pharmaceuticals and emerging new compounds. Why are we seeing some of these compounds? One reason is that the technology to measure these things is fairly new.

Senator Christensen: Not why we are seeing them, why did we not realize that they would be there, whether we saw them or not?

Mr. Servos: That is a good question. We should have understood that they would be there, but they are there at extremely low concentrations. Pharmaceuticals are designed to have specific biological activity. Very low concentrations can have implications for the environment. It is only recently, since we have been talking about endocrine disrupters and the compounds that affect hormone systems and natural systems at very low levels, that we have become more concerned with these kinds of compounds.

They are not like other compounds. They tend not to be persistent and bioaccumulate in the environment, like PCBs and dioxins, but they are constantly put into the environment from sewage treatment plants or as a result of agricultural use. There is continuous pseudo-exposure to these compounds which are fairly water soluble. They tend to move around effectively in the water. When they get into an animal, they can have a specific effect at a low concentration.

We are starting to be concerned about them. Our traditional risk assessment approaches to these kinds of compounds may not work very well, because they behave in a slightly differently. When CIPA was renewed in 1989, the Food and Drug Act had to come into compliance. There was a lot of interest in creating new regulations to properly address these compounds. That is when the research community in Canada became interested in these compounds. They wanted to support the regulatory development in trying to understand them. The instrumentation used to measure these compounds is new. Only in the last 5 to 10 years have people even been able to measure these compounds in the environment.

Senator Christensen: Is their incidence in our environment increasing?

Mr. Servos: I do not think we know that. They are certainly changing. The use patterns will change. New drugs and personal care products are always coming along. Our population is changing and we are continuously trying to improve drugs, make them more specific to address certain concerns. Therefore, they will continue to change. As to whether they will increase in concentration, we do not know that yet.

Senator Christensen: Has any thought been given to any of the drugs that are being taken and that get into the environment having a requirement that they have a limited life so that, once they have done their job, they will no longer be potent? Is there any way of doing that?

Mr. Servos: It is very difficult. There is a lot of discussion about this. Internationally, a number of workshops have tried to address some of these questions. It is an international issue. Would it be possible to design drugs that would degrade in the environment? Most of them do. Most of them degrade rapidly in treatment systems, but some of them do not and are very persistent.

The problem is that they are important for human health. Certain people depend on some of these drugs. With the low concentrations in the environment, we are still doing the studies to determine whether or not they are out there in concentrations that are a real concern for safety. We are at the preliminary stage of understanding the implications of pharmaceuticals and personal care products for the environment. It will be difficult to do that.

Senator Christensen: To switch subjects, I would like to talk about our smaller communities and the costs of water treatment and the treatment of sewage. I think we have to link those two much tighter than we do. Ultimately, we must consider all water treatment, whether it is sewage coming in or going out, because it all ends up coming back to us one way or another. In the smaller communities in the North, where I come from, cost is a major problem. We have 30,000 people in total in the entire territory. The major communities consist of perhaps 20,000 people, but some may only have 1,000 people. The cost of sewage treatment and water treatment is prohibitive, yet it is a requirement.

It is also difficult to protect watersheds. When Whitehorse was installing a sewage treatment plant a major consideration was the protection of the watershed. We are on a major lake system, and there are lots of cottages above us. It is the only waterway where aircraft that serve the community can land. Aircraft land on the water intake and leave behind toxic fuels. Clear water involves major expenditures for our communities. Will scientific knowledge lead to a reduction of those costs and still protect our water systems?

Mr. Servos: That is a major challenge. Remote and small communities are repeatedly identified by various groups as being the real challenge for the future. It is an expensive process, but it is also critical to protect those resources and people.

The consideration is not only building the structures, but it is also having the trained people who are able to maintain those systems in place, so that the systems operate properly once the investment is made. In a small community, it is difficult to get the expertise on a regular basis so that when something happens, they know that it happened and they know how to respond.

It only takes a few hours before a community is exposed. It will be a huge challenge. It is an engineering challenge as well as a social governance type of issue. It will be very difficult.

We must protect the source. We talk about protecting drinking water's multiple barriers, but we must protect the source. If you do not contaminate it in the first place, it will be safe. You must have treatment systems that ensure it is safe. Then, we need monitoring systems so that, when a mistake occurs, or something unusual happens, such as what happened in Walkerton, the system will respond effectively to protect people. If you do not have all those different barriers in place, you will not protect people.

In small communities, getting all those components in place and maintaining them is a big scientific, engineering and social challenge.

Senator Christensen: We have taken on a huge subject here. In order to do a good job, we will have to focus. Do you have any suggestions as to where we would be best advised or directed to start focusing our first attack on this particular question? We could go all over the map on this one.

Mr. Servos: As a network on water, we have been presented with the same sort of challenge. It is extremely difficult. We cannot say about the topic of water that it is too complicated and not deal with it.

I have a few thoughts about the committee and the Senate. This committee could take leadership in trying to increase the importance, the profile and the priority of water on the national agenda. We need to ensure that people understand the real value of water and how important it is to our daily lives and to our children's futures, not just in terms of our health but the health of the ecosystem and the economy. Water is extremely important to our economy. If we have to spend huge amounts on treating it, there will be huge public expenditure implications.

The committee could be a catalyst in initiating an assessment of the national status of our water challenges and our research capability and capacity to address them.

The committee could be an advocate for a national forum and strategy to ensure clean, safe water that integrates the various perspectives of the jurisdictions and the various mandates within the federal and provincial governments, et cetera. We need to include all sectors. In thinking about water, everyone must be included. We must include industry, academia and governments at all levels, not just governments at the federal level but all governments right down to the municipal level where the decisions that affect us every day are being made. We also have to include the public.

Perhaps those are big ideas. I did not downsize the task, I made it bigger. In some ways, we are struggling with the larger national integration — the big picture. Perhaps the Senate could catalyze the discussion and create the forum for us to address some of these water issues.

Senator Christensen: Could you verify for me a statistic that I have heard but which I do not know is right? I have heard that 90 per cent of the water on the planet is not fit to be used for anything. Of the 10 per cent that remains, 5 per cent is tied up in the polar ice caps, glaciers, et cetera. Thus, only 5 per cent of that 100 per cent is actually fit for growing and life. Is that an accurate statistic?

Mr. Servos: We will find that out for you. I am not sure of the numbers. I know a large proportion of it is frozen. You must remember we are talking about fresh water.

Senator Christensen: I am talking about water, period.

Mr. Servos: We will get that information to the committee.

Senator Milne: I understand that your different groups are working on many different projects at the same time. It might help us if we had a list of the different projects that are going on. That might give us some idea of the witnesses we may wish to call before the committee. Could you provide that information to the committee as well?

Mr. Servos: Certainly, we will do that. We have a fully interactive website that has all the addresses, biographies and descriptions of the projects. Currently, we are in the process of making additional proposals to our network.

The Deputy Chairman: When we get down to specifics, we may have to call you.

Mr. Servos: That is what we want. We want to be the conduit which puts you in contact with the right people.

The Deputy Chairman: You spoke about the Waterloo. You told us that the residents there have put constraints on themselves to do something about the water shortage. Were these constraints introduced by the municipality or the city before the residents took the initiative?

Mr. Servos: I believe it was the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, which has been extremely proactive in the management of water. The Grand River watershed is probably one of the best managed and understood watersheds in the country. That community understands the importance of water. Water has always been a central part of that community. The communication with and the education of people has been tackled so that they understand the value of water.

The Deputy Chairman: How has the regional government done this?

Mr. Servos: They have a number of programs. For example, you can bring in your old toilet and replace it with a low flow toilet at a minimal cost.

They have a wonderful education program. The Grand River Conservation Authority sends out all kinds of educational material to the schools and to the newspapers on a regular basis. They constantly communicate with people to point out how valuable water is. They then implement conservation measures so that they do not have to make huge investments to deal with water problems. They are trying to be proactive.

The community has always been on a small river system. They use it for waste, industry and for drinking water. If you are drinking it, you pay attention to what is going into it. They have been very good at that.

The Deputy Chairman: It is an education.

Mr. Servos: It always comes back to education. If you can teach people so that they understand, they will want to do it. They will not dump things down the storm drains. We know that people used to pour things down storm drains all the time. People now understand that those storm drains sometimes flow directly into rivers and that there are implications to that. What goes down drains is sometimes untreated. In big storms, it ends up in the rivers and that has implications.

People want to do the right thing. We have to teach them what it is and help them understand that it is important for them to do it. In that way, they will understand not only that it is more cost-effective to them in the long run, but that it will also protect the environment.

The Deputy Chairman: How long have they been running this program?

Mr. Servos: Many years.

The Deputy Chairman: Would you say 10 or 15 years?

Mr. Servos: At least 10 years.

Ms. Conant: I think it is 20 or more.

The Deputy Chairman: Ms. Conant, do you have something to add to this subject?

Ms. Conant: Having lived in the region longer, perhaps I have more of a sense of it. I have asked that question of our community. I asked if it came about because one individual in the municipality was a leader in getting that going. There must be leadership from the community. In this case, some people in municipal government took the bull by the horns and said that they would make it an issue.

Very little has been brought about by regulation, although there are measures such as watering use laws, which take proactive steps to conserve water. However, the result is also educational.

When a resident can only water his or her lawn on an even-numbered day, it brings conversation forward. Twenty years ago, if you were to drive through a subdivision in this community, you would have seen a green lawn in front of every house you passed. There was a lot of pride in the velvet green paradise. As a measure of public response, the movement toward banning pesticides for lawn use, for instance, would have met quite a lot of resistance 20 years ago. As a result of a combined campaign to make people of the impacts of those pesticides, in my neighbourhood you now will see that probably 5 to 10 per cent of gardens have had the grass removed and it has been replaced with native shrubs and things like that. People have been proactive. However, it has been a gradual public opinion change at the neighbourhood level.

Another interesting thing has happened lately that did not have a practical implication for the region from a decision-making point of view. Recently, all the streets surrounding our wells were labelled so that, as you are driving by, you will see a prominent sign. The website for the region shows what they look like. The sign simply says ``Drinking Water Protection Area, 5 Kilometres.'' A friend who works in the region has told me that the sign is for public awareness. As you drive along the street, you are unaware of the fact that you are driving over a waterway or that you are near a well. No bylaw restricts any activity related to those signs. The signs are there for public information, and they have caught people's attention.

However, some of them have been related to restrictions. Some have been installed as a result of subsidized programs like the toilet program. This activity has been coupled with the recycling and the composting that has been going on at the same time. There has been a combination of small economic incentives such as rebate programs, a public education campaign and, to a certain extent, enforcement. The enforcement segment has been quite small.

This has happened over two decades. People should be aware of that. It certainly has been a sea change in public opinion.

The main factor was a large economic driver and that was the municipal decision, on recognizing that they were reaching the capacity of this water resource, to pipe to the Great Lakes. They recognized they could not drill another well. The question was whether to pipe to Lake Huron or Lake Erie? This was a big issue. Currently, that is in the water plan for 2020. All we have done recently has delayed that by a decade or two, but it is still the long-term objective in the long-term plan for the region.

Senator Milne: That is a long way, and it will be an expensive pipeline.

Ms. Conant: That is correct, and that discourages the incentive to do that from a local perception point of view.

Senator Christensen: Since pharmaceuticals are your specialty, do you know if there have been any effects on sewage treatment — the aerobic or anaerobic treatment where bacterial action is so important — as a result of pharmaceuticals getting into the sewage system?

Mr. Servos: In most cases, the bugs in the sewage treatment plant would just see it as a carbon source, because there are very low concentrations. We are talking about extremely low concentrations in a diverse community. We do not think that things like antibiotics are anywhere near high enough to have an implication for the actual functioning of the sewage treatment plant. In this regard, a number of studies have been done in Europe.

Senator Christensen: Is that because they break down fast enough?

Mr. Servos: They break down very quickly. There are impacts, and there is antibiotic resistance, which is also a concern. Can a pharmaceutical that enters the environment be a vector for moving? Right now, there seems to be little evidence that that will happen, based on the ecology of the microbes, but there is always the uncertainty. You can never say with 100 per cent certainty that there is no effect or that it will not happen.

In terms of antibiotic resistance, the major concern is antibiotic use in animals. Presently, we think that there is minimal potential for it to be translated. If antibiotic resistance goes into the bacteria, you have to be able to translate, move around what they call plasmids, which is bits of DNA, and that can be moved around into different organisms, and that transfers the resistance. It is very complex.

There is a large science program going on in Europe, and the Canadian Water Network is a partner in it. They are looking at the assessment of pharmaceuticals in the environment and trying to create guidance. By being a partner in that large program in Europe we may be able to better understand some of the issues here in Canada. They have a lot more water use issues. It is a much more intensive issue for them.

The Deputy Chairman: I want to ask you about our formal water policy that was introduced in 1987. Is a policy framework now in place? Could you tell us how effective this has been? Where are we now with regard to water policy? Where are we going?

Mr. Servos: I believe Ms. Moore, who was here last week, is the person who works on the policy side of things. The policy has been in place for almost 20 years now. It was introduced in 1987. It is time for us to look at some of these things because so much is going on related to water in all of the various jurisdictions. Our perceptions about water have changed dramatically in the last five to seven years, partly because of Walkerton and some of the other tragedies, but also because of the way we look at watersheds and ecosystems and how we value them. Perhaps it is time for us to look at a strategy again and look at water policy from a national perspective — again, not just from a federal but a national perspective that integrates all of the components of society.

The Deputy Chairman: Currently, there is no movement afoot to improve this water policy, so we will continue with the 1987 policy. Am I reading you right?

Mr. Servos: There is a significant amount of movement within various governments to address water issues in a major way. There is a significant amount of activity in provincial governments to have water policies within the municipalities to deal with the new regulations that are being downloaded to them. The federal government is trying to coordinate 19 departments that have various responsibilities for water. I would not say that nothing is going on and that the policy is stagnant. It is evolving. The issue is so big and complex, the question is how we integrate it in some form so that we have a national vision about how it all ties together so that the guy working in the treatment plant understands what is going on at all levels and what the implications may be. It is a difficult question to answer.

The Deputy Chairman: Thank you very much, Mr. Servos and Ms. Conant. You have said that you will provide to us the names of the various departments working on these particular issues. We may have to avail ourselves of their expertise. It is encouraging that we can all work together.

Mr. Servos: Certainly. The network was created in the first place because we all want to participate.

The committee adjourned.