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Out of Sight, Out Of Mind: RBC Study Finds Majority of Canadians Believe Their Local Water Infrastructure Is Good Enough for Now

National 'pipe dream' flies in face of reports outlining critical infrastructure gap

TORONTO, March 22, 2012 — 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."

2012 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study: Additional highlights Following are additional highlights from the 2012 RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study, which has tracked Canadians' perceptions and attitudes towards water quality and conservation since 2008.

Water consumption behaviours

  • Two-thirds of Canadians (66 per cent) always turn off the water while brushing their teeth (70 per cent female; 61 per cent male);
  • Almost half (48 per cent) avoid watering their lawns in the summer (55 per cent female; 40 per cent male);
  • Many Canadians have installed low-flow shower heads (47 per cent) and water-efficient toilets (42 per cent) in their homes;
  • Four-in-ten respondents regularly choose tap water over bottled water in restaurants;
  • Of the typical sources of drinking water at home, Canadians drink tap water (48 per cent), filtered tap water (27 per cent), water from a large jug/cooler (11 per cent) and individually-sized bottled water (nine per cent).

Top five things people do that upset Canadians the most about water usage

  1. Water their lawns when it has just rained, is raining or about to rain (48 per cent)
  2. Flush things down the toilet that should be disposed of in another manner (29 per cent)
  3. Hose down their driveway (24 per cent)
  4. Leave a faucet running in a public place (19 per cent)
  5. Use soap or shampoo to bathe in a lake (18 per cent)

Top five things Canadians admit they have knowingly done themselves

  1. Left water running in the kitchen when washing and rinsing dishes (44 per cent)
  2. Left water on while brushing teeth (42 per cent)
  3. Allowed soapy water to run down a storm drain (18 per cent)
  4. Flushed things down the toilet that should have been disposed of in another manner (14 per cent)
  5. Hosed down driveway (12 per cent)

About the RBC Canadian Water Attitudes Study
These are some of the findings of a GlobeScan poll conducted between February 1-15, 2012, on behalf of RBC and sponsored by the UN Water for Life Decade. A sample of 2,428 adult Canadians from an online panel were interviewed. Weighting was then employed to balance demographics and ensure that the sample's composition reflects that of the adult population according to Census data and to provide results intended to approximate the sample universe. The margin of error for a strict probability sample for a sample of this size would be ±2.0 percent, 19 times out of 20. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to multiple sources of error, including, but not limited to sampling error, coverage error and measurement error.

About the RBC Blue Water Project
The RBC Blue Water Project is an innovative, wide-ranging, 10-year global commitment to help protect the world's most precious natural resource: fresh water. It includes a $50 million philanthropic commitment to organizations that protect watersheds and ensure access to clean drinking water. The RBC Blue Water Project also promotes responsible water use through awareness programs and supports programs that encourage businesses to develop and commercialize innovative solutions to the water issues facing the world. Since 2007, RBC has pledged over $32 million to more than 450 not-for-profit organizations worldwide that protect watersheds or ensure access to clean drinking water. For more information, rbc.com/bluewater.

About Canadian Partnership Initiative of the United Nations Water for Life Decade
The United Nations Water for Life Decade is a globally proclaimed decade for action on water quality and availability issues. While each country in the world will be focusing on its own water quality and availability issues within the larger context of the global fresh water situation, the Canadian initiative has been defined by a nation-wide public and private sector partnership aimed at identifying and responding to regional and national water issues. The United Nations Water for Life initiative in Canada exists to put Canadian water issues into a global context. The Canadian United Nations Water for Life partnership initiative is housed, and has its research home in the Western Watersheds Climate Research Collaborative at the Biogeosciences Institute at the University of Calgary.

About GlobeScan
GlobeScan delivers evidence, insights, and ideas that build value for clients through stronger stakeholder relationships. Uniquely placed at the nexus of reputation, brand, and sustainability, GlobeScan combines rigorous research with creative and challenging thinking to instill trust, drive engagement, and inspire innovation within, around, and beyond our clients' organizations. For more information, visit www.globescan.com.

For further information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Rebecca Webster, Weber Shandwick, 416-642-7975,
rwebster@webershandwick.com

Jackie Braden, RBC Brand Communications, 416-974-1724,
jackie.braden@rbc.com