Households' use of water and wastewater services
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Terence Nelligan, Environment Accounts and Statistics Division
When it comes to water conservation and other water-related practices, are behaviours the same when comparing households with public water services and those on private systems? Do households with septic tanks maintain them to protect the environment? This study considers these questions using data from the 2006 Households and the Environment Survey.
No difference in behaviour between households with all public and all private water and wastewater services
In 2006, just over three-quarters of Canadian households obtained their water and sewer services from public utilities, while 15% of households had private systems, such as wells and septic systems. A small portion of households used a combination of municipal and private (Table 1).
Some public utilities have water efficiency programs to reduce water demand. For example, rebates are offered for the replacement of older toilets with ones that use less water.1 It is estimated that toilets (31%) and showers (19%) account for approximately half of the total indoor water consumed.2 Thus, the use of low-flow shower heads and reduced volume toilets are key water conservation practices. More than two-thirds (69%) of households used these water conservation practices in 2006, regardless of whether they were connected to all public or all private water and wastewater services.3
The extent to which households dump paints, and other toxic substances down their drains may also affect a community's sewage quality.4 In 2006, 3% of households in both groups flushed special wastes such as paints and expired medications.5
Based on Environment Canada estimates, 15,400 tonnes of nitrogen and 1,900 tonnes of phosphorus were released from Canadian septic systems in 1996. These substances can be sources of contamination of groundwater and, ultimately, of surface waters.6
Proper installation and maintenance of septic systems can minimize impacts on the environment. According to the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC), septic tanks should be pumped out every three to five years or when one-third of the tank volume is filled with solids.7 Nationally, 6% of households reported that they never pumped out or maintained their septic system. The majority, however, reported maintenance frequencies that were in accordance with CMHC's recommendations. One-quarter of households reported maintaining their system every 4 or more years, 43% reported performing maintenance every 2 or 3 years, 17% once a year and 4% more than once a year (Table 2). Frequency of maintenance can also depend on the type of sewage system in place, with holding tanks requiring more frequent pump out than septic systems. The number and type of private sewage systems in Canada vary depending on soil conditions and provincial regulations.
- City of Toronto, 2008, WaterSaver Rebate Programs, (accessed September 11, 2008).
- Peter W. Mayer and William B. DeOreo, 1999, Residential End Uses of Water , American Water Works Association Research Foundation, Denver.
- Statistics Canada, Households and the Environment Survey, 2006, Special tabulation.
- Environment Canada, 2001, The State of Municipal Wastewater Effluents in Canada, (accessed October 22, 2008).
- Statistics Canada, Households and the Environment Survey, 2006, Special tabulation. Includes flushing waste down the drain, sewer, toilet or into the ground.
- Environment Canada, 2001, Nutrients in the Canadian Environment, (accessed September 22, 2008).
- Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, 2008, Your Septic System, (accessed May 29, 2008).