What’s on Tap?

Whenever I tell people I work with water, one of the first questions I get asked is whether tap water is safe to drink.

For people in the Metro Vancouver area, this link does a great job summarizing the water supply process from source to tap. For those of you living elsewhere, this information should be easy enough to find on Google by searching ‘water treatment and supply’ and your town or city name.

In Vancouver, water comes from three watersheds – Capilano, Seymour, and Coquitlam. Watersheds are regions where all water drains into a particular stream, river, or lake. You can imagine your kitchen sink as its own miniature watershed, and all the water that instead ends up on the floor as occupying a (perhaps rather confused and misguided) watershed of its own.

Water is stored in large reservoirs, closed off to the public. Before it reaches your tap, it passes through several layers of treatment, including filtration, ozonation, and disinfection with ultraviolet radiation. Together, these interventions ensure that potential threats are either removed or rendered harmless.

Chlorine is then added as a secondary treatment to maintain water quality from the time it leaves the treatment plant to the time it reaches your tap.

Vancouver, as well as most BC municipalities, does not add fluoride to its water. If you do live in a municipality that fluoridates its water, don’t worry – you’ll live. While the debate over the overall value of fluoridation is old news, it occurs naturally in small concentrations in water and has been shown to reduce tooth decay. This link provides a good overview of fluoridation in Canada.

And because no discussion of fluoridation is complete without quoting Dr. Strangelove:



2 responses to “What’s on Tap?

  1. Sharing this. I did not know Vancity’s water was non-flouride. Edmonton’s has been fluoridated as long as I’ve been alive (I’m a millennial) and I was surprised other cities did not have added flouride. I wonder if it has helped my teeth health; I’ve only had two cavities ever while my parents, who grew up in a country which did not add flouride to their water, have lots. I’ve been taught to boil all tap water before drinking.

    • From the little bit of digging I’ve done, it seems like the decision to add fluoride is often based on practicality rather than public health considerations on a city to city basis. I’ve always drunk water straight from the tap without boiling. I wonder how common boiling water is (in cities at least)…

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