I'd be pleased to. Thank you.
Good afternoon, first of all, and thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on this important topic.
My name is Bernadette Conant, and I'm the CEO of Canadian Water Network.
CWN is a national non-profit that serves as a trusted broker of research insights for use in the water sector. Our focus is on bringing about evidence-informed decisions about water. Of relevance today, part of the groundbreaking research supported by Canadian Water Network was on lead in drinking water. That work was led primarily by Dr. Michèle Prévost at l'École Polytechnique in Montreal and Professor Graham Gagnon of Dalhousie University, who is with us today. Both those researchers are internationally renowned professionals, and they've won prestigious awards for their work in that specific area.
The current focal point of CWN's programming is its Canadian Municipal Water Consortium. That's a nationwide collaboration of progressive water leaders who are advancing water management in Canada's cities and communities. It brings together practitioners, government, industry, academics, and other non-governmental groups to anticipate, respond, and adapt to water challenges facing our cities and communities. The topics are broad, but the focus is on community water management issues.
The leadership group of that consortium currently includes senior executives from the water utilities of 19 different municipalities from right across Canada—from Victoria to Halifax—and they collectively serve over 50% of the Canadian population.
To ensure that the consortium then is guided by an understanding of the key challenges these water practitioners face, we continually engage the consortium leadership group in discussions about existing and emerging priorities, assessing how the current knowledge base that's available can help address those needs or, conversely, determine what's needed to better support their decisions or actions.
It's from that position of being deeply engaged with that municipal water management and the research communities that I want to bring to you three key observations that I hope will basically set the framing for today's discussions and allow the other witnesses to give you the details that are helpful. Some of this repeats some of the pieces that your committee has talked about.
First, the public health issue of lead in drinking water and its relationship to lead in buried pipes and home fixtures is widespread. That's an important thing to communicate to the committee, from our experience. It's a recognized national issue of expressed importance by water utilities and cities right across Canada, and indeed internationally.
Second, the issue of lead in drinking water is different from other conventional concerns about water safety, such as pathogens. That is specific because it's not so much about the quality of the water produced by the drinking water plants or the supplies, but rather what happens to the chemistry of that water, how it changes as it makes its way through the distribution system, particularly, as you've talked about, within homes and buildings.
Third, research has shown quite convincingly that ingestion of lead is a problem even at very low levels, particularly for children. The current expectation based on experience in research is that we ultimately need to remove the lead pipes to address it over the long term. In fact, the partial replacement of lead pipes that you've discussed—so that replacement of part of the delivery on the public side, but not the private side—can actually make the problem worse, at least in the near term.
It's an important and not an isolated problem. Addressing the problem is complicated because it involves both public and private ownership, each having different sets of regulations, responsibilities, and liabilities. Addressing it effectively, therefore, requires action to be taken by both utilities and the public. If we're going to tackle it, both of those are required.
For the Canadian Water Network, lead is an issue that undeniably underscores the importance of going beyond the jurisdictional boundaries of water utilities or federal-provincial boundaries, which is always a challenge, I find, when we have these discussions at committee. However, we have to go beyond that if we're really concerned about public health as the ultimate goal.
Why is it relevant, and indeed important, to this particular committee? From my point of view, it's because the solution to this national public health problem involves many players, but it's ultimately about infrastructure. It's about addressing the lead in pipes in water systems. A solution to the problem therefore requires effectively addressing drinking water infrastructure all the way to the tap. Being successful at that is going to require coordinated action.
A couple of the main needs that you've discussed previously are determining the size and nature of the problem. To some degree, we know there is a problem, and different jurisdictions have lots of detailed information. Some have none. Therefore, we can conjecture about the size, but we really don't know the extent and the numbers in Canada of the—