Dramatic changes to our freshwater concerns, study finds

For the first time, Canadians rank climate change as the biggest threat to our freshwater, according to the most recent edition of one of Canada’s most comprehensive studies of Canadian attitudes toward freshwater resources. Canadians also think water is by far the most important natural resource, ahead of  oil and gas, coal, agricultural land, forests, base metals and fisheries.
Every year since 2008, the Royal Bank of Canada has polled Canadians to better understand how we think about water, and how our opinions and behaviors are changing. The 2016 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes study gauged our views on the value of natural resources, threats to freshwater, whether we should export water, if companies should have to obtain licences for groundwater use, our willingness to pay more for household water use to encourage conservation, and much more.

With the skyline of Toronto on the horizon, children play in the water on the shores of Lake Ontario, Ontario, Canada. © Frank PARHIZGAR / WWF-Canada
With the skyline of Toronto on the horizon, children play in the water on the shores of Lake Ontario, Ontario, Canada. © Frank PARHIZGAR / WWF-Canada

More than 2,000 Canadians were surveyed, with a minimum of 200 respondents in Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg and Montreal, 300 in Toronto, and 178 in Halifax.
With the exception of respondents from Calgary, respondents of all ages across the country ranked freshwater as Canada’s most important natural resource. As for the greatest threats to that resource, climate change was closely followed by dumping of toxins, runoff of pollutants from land to water, and wasteful use by industry.
Some other key findings:

  • 84 per cent of respondents report having confidence in the quality of the tap water in their home, despite the fact that a quarter have experienced boil-water advisories.
  • 83 per cent are very or somewhat concerned about freshwater conditions on First Nations reserves, up 12 per cent from 2010.
  • Nine in 10 Canadians (92 per cent) think that the best way that Canada can protect and manage freshwater is by developing stricter rules and standards to manage water use by industry and municipalities.
  • Of all the activities Canadians like to do outdoors, swimming ties with hiking as most-mentioned. Spending time on the beach is a close third. Nearly two-thirds of Canadians swim in lakes or rivers at least once a year, and two-thirds expressed concern about the quality of the water in which they swim.

At WWF-Canada, we are committed to measuring the quality of our freshwater supply through our Watershed Reports, the only nationwide assessment of the health of our freshwater ecosystems and the threats they face. Our goal: to see all of Canada’s waters in good condition by 2025.
Canadians’ view that climate change is the top threat to freshwater aligns with WWF-Canada’s scientific assessment on the issue. Twenty-one per cent of Canadians now rank it as the top threat in the latest study, up from 7 per cent in 2010 when run-off, exports, mismanagement, waste, illegal toxin dumping and lack of knowledge all ranked higher.
In the majority of the watersheds WWF-Canada has assessed to date, climate change ranks as being a “moderate” or “high” threat to health. The impact is greatest in the Peace–Athabasca, Yukon and South Saskatchewan, which all score “high” on this threat level.
Climate change results in changing precipitation patterns, increasing evaporation, melting glaciers, and causes droughts and floods to become more frequent and intense.
WWF-Canada has been pioneering a new era of conservation science in Canada by bringing insights from big data to decision makers to ensure Canadians have healthy freshwater, from coast to coast to coast, by 2025.  In our towns and cities and in the countryside, from people and businesses to the species that rely on clean water, we all deserve waters in good health.
Explore WWF-Canada’s Watershed Reports to learn more about the health of your watershed and stay tuned as we launch seven new watershed reports in the coming week.