Drinking Water Quality Guidelines across Canadian provinces and territories: jurisdictional variation in the context of decentralized water governance

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2014 Apr 25;11(5):4634-51. doi: 10.3390/ijerph110504634.


This article presents the first comprehensive review and analysis of the uptake of the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines (CDWQG) across Canada's 13 provinces and territories. This review is significant given that Canada's approach to drinking water governance is: (i) highly decentralized and (ii) discretionary. Canada is (along with Australia) only one of two Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member states that does not comply with the World Health Organization's (WHO) recommendation that all countries have national, legally binding drinking water quality standards. Our review identifies key differences in the regulatory approaches to drinking water quality across Canada's 13 jurisdictions. Only 16 of the 94 CDWQG are consistently applied across all 13 jurisdictions; five jurisdictions use voluntary guidelines, whereas eight use mandatory standards. The analysis explores three questions of central importance for water managers and public health officials: (i) should standards be uniform or variable; (ii) should compliance be voluntary or legally binding; and (iii) should regulation and oversight be harmonized or delegated? We conclude with recommendations for further research, with particular reference to the relevance of our findings given the high degree of variability in drinking water management and oversight capacity between urban and rural areas in Canada.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Canada
  • Drinking Water / standards*
  • Government Regulation*
  • Guidelines as Topic*
  • Politics
  • Public Health / legislation & jurisprudence*
  • Water Supply / legislation & jurisprudence*


  • Drinking Water