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Survey of Drinking Water Plants, 2017

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Released: 2019-06-11

Total water use in Canada was 12% lower in 2017 compared with six years earlier. Households accounted for half of the water used in Canada in 2017, most of which (88%) was drawn from a river or lake.

Drinking water plants produced 4 888 million cubic metres of potable water in 2017, down almost 3% from 2015.

The number of Canadians who received their drinking water from plants that served communities of 300 or more people rose from just under 31 million in 2015 to 31.3 million people in 2017.

Total water use declines

Total per capita water use, which includes residential, industrial, commercial and other uses of water provided by public utilities, averaged 427 litres per person per day in 2017, down 4% from 446 litres per person per day in 2015. The decline in per capita water use was attributable to a larger population and lower drinking water production.

Total water use per capita was above the national average in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick, Yukon, Quebec, British Columbia and Prince Edward Island in 2017, while it was the lowest in Nunavut and Manitoba.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Average daily total litres per capita
Average daily total litres per capita

Total water use declined by 12% from six years earlier, from 485 litres per person per day in 2011 to 427 litres in 2017.

Residential water use accounts for half of the drinking water produced annually

The residential sector was the primary water user, averaging 220 litres per person per day in 2017. This worked out to 2 445 million cubic metres or 50% of the drinking water produced.

In terms of residential use, households in Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, British Columba, the Northwest Territories, New Brunswick, and Quebec used more water per capita than the Canadian average in 2017.

Many factors can account for differences in water use, including water metering and pricing, water supply shortages, conservation measures (such as low flow toilets), climate, demographics, dwelling types, economic activities and the state of infrastructure.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Average daily residential litres per capita
Average daily residential litres per capita

Residential water use declined 12% from six years earlier, from 251 litres per person per day in 2011 to 220 litres per person per day in 2017.

The industrial, commercial, institutional and other non-residential sectors combined used 1 460 million cubic metres or 30% of the water produced in 2017. Losses from the distribution system (such as leakage) accounted for 17% of the volume produced. The remaining 3% of the total water volume was wholesale transfers to other jurisdictions.

Infographic 1  Thumbnail for Infographic 1: Potable water use in Canada
Potable water use in Canada

Chart 3  Chart 3: Monthly potable water production, Canada
Monthly potable water production, Canada

Surface water sources, such as lakes and rivers, supplied 88% of the water in 2017, with groundwater and other sources accounting for the rest.

Nearly all the water produced was treated by filtration and disinfection processes in 2017, while 1% of Canadians received untreated water, which came primarily from groundwater sources, unchanged from 2015.

Capital expenditures almost one-fifth higher year over year

Capital expenditures to upgrade existing infrastructure and commission new components of water treatment plants totalled $871 million in 2017, up 19% from a year earlier when expenditures totalled $734 million.

These upgrades include improvements to buildings, machinery, processing equipment, and other physical assets related to the acquisition and treatment of water, but exclude infrastructure for water distribution.

Operation and maintenance costs rise

Just over $1.1 billion was spent on operations and maintenance in 2017, up 11% from 2015. These costs include expenditures on materials (chemicals and replacement parts), labour and energy, but exclude water distribution costs.

Labour costs represented the largest share of these expenses at $460 million, followed by energy expenses ($258 million) and materials ($240 million). Other costs accounted for the remaining $173 million.

  Note to readers

The target population is composed of drinking water treatment plants that are licensed and regulated by provincial/territorial agencies (excluding First Nations communities) and that draw and process source/raw water from the environment to produce treated/potable water for consumption, serving 300 or more people.


The infographic, "Potable water use in Canada" is available.

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