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Eight facts about water in Canada

How much do you know about Canada’s water — where it comes from and how it’s used?

  • Mar 21, 2019
  • 727 words
  • 3 minutes
Nettilling Lake, Baffin Island, Nunavut Expand Image

March 22nd is World Water Day, a United Nations-led initiative to provoke conversation and action on water issues around the globe. The theme for 2019 is “Water for All.” Goal number six of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals envisions a world where everyone has access to clean, safe water — but billions of people around the world still live without it in their households, schools, and places of work. Although Canada has a large share of the world’s freshwater, not everyone who lives here benefits from it. We still have work to do to ensure all people in Canada can access this most important resource. In honour of World Water Day, here are eight numbers and figures that capture Canadian water usage and its importance to our economy and way of life.


Percentage of the world’s total renewable freshwater found in Canada’s lakes and rivers

Canada is a water-rich country, but natural fluctuations in seasonal rain and snowfall can cause shortages in some years and flooding in others.

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A police car is partially submerged during 2013’s record flooding in Calgary, Alta. (Photo: Darcy Gloer/CanGeo Photo Club)


Percentage of Canada’s freshwater that drains to the north

Believe it or not, most of Canada’s freshwater drains to the north, away from the 85 per cent of the population that lives within 300 kilometres of the southern border. This makes harnessing and managing our water resources a significant challenge, both nationally and within individual provinces and territories.


Number of international and bi-lateral environmental agreements in which Canada participates (as of 2017)

Canada is a signatory to a number of agreements on the use and conservation of water resources, including the Ramsar Convention on wetlands, the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement and a number of treaties with the United States concerning the health of cross-border river systems.

37 billion

Total cubic metres of water withdrawn from Canada’s lakes, rivers and groundwater in 2013

Most of that water was withdrawn for industrial uses, especially power generation, manufacturing and agriculture. Water use by Canadian households actually declined between 2011 and 2013. 

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Bruce Nuclear Generating Station near Kincardine, Ont. Thermal power generation is the biggest consumers of water in Canada. (Photo: Chuck Szmurlo/Wikimedia Commons)


Percentage of the total water the agriculture sector uses that does not return back to its original source

Little is known about how much “virtual water” is being moved between water-scarce and water-rich regions of Canada, but the best export estimates are that more than 95 billion cubic metres (Bm3) of virtual water — most of it tied up in grain, livestock and fuels — leaves Canada each year (roughly 60 per cent of it going to the United States). Learn more about virtual water

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Beef has the highest “water footprint” of any farmed food. (Photo: Ryan Thompson/U.S. Department of Agriculture)


Average litres of water each Canadian uses every day 

Despite improvements in household water conservation over the past decade, Canada is still one of the largest per capita users of freshwater in the world.


Number of long-term drinking water advisories in effect on First Nations reserves across Canada as of March 11, 2019

Long-term drinking water advisories are applied to public water systems on reserve and can mean the water is safe to drink after boiling, or not safe for consumption at all. Many communities have had advisories in effect for 10 years or more. In its 2016 budget, the federal government committed $1.8 billion over five years to ending all long-term drinking water advisories on reserves by 2021.  


Number of years the Neskantaga First Nation in northern Ontario has been under a Boil Water Advisory

The community’s water treatment plant opened in 1993 and almost immediately began experiencing problems. A boil water advisory was issued in February 1995 and has been in place ever since. A reverse osmosis plant on the edge of town supplies purified drinking water, but residents must pick it up and transport it themselves, posing problems for the elderly and young families. Construction of a new water treatment plant has been delayed, leaving some to doubt whether an end to Canada’s longest-running boil water advisory is feasible this year. 


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