Drinking Water Quality

Clean water is essential to our health and well-being. Canadian drinking water supplies are generally of excellent quality. UBC regularly tests drinking water to ensure it is safe.

Starting in 2020, as many buildings on campus have reduced occupancy, we want to remind everyone that running the cold water taps until the water is cold is an important step before drinking or using for food preparation. Read more

Drinking Water Quality

What is the drinking water quality at UBC?

UBC water consumers often express interest in the source and quality of their drinking water on the Vancouver campus. The drinking water at UBC is safe and clean and in order to maintain high-quality drinking water on campus, UBC regularly collects and samples drinking water. We assess drinking water quality against current Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality as published by Health Canada on behalf of the Federal-Provincial-Territorial Committee on Drinking Water.

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What is the water source at UBC?

Drinking water for UBC’s Vancouver Campus (and other Metro Vancouver locations) comes from Metro Vancouver’s water system. Five hundred and eighty-five square kilometers of mountainous land is closed to public access to protect the large supply lakes that collect water from rain, snowmelt, creeks and streams from the Capilano, Seymour and Coquitlam Watersheds, that make up the water source for Lower Mainland municipalities. This water is delivered to UBC through many kilometers of water mains and pipes.

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How is water quality tested at UBC?

Water quality is regularly tested by Metro Vancouver at the source, at treatment facilities and at various distribution points and it consistently meets Health Canada’s standards for quality. At the UBC campus, drinking water samples are collected from 16 sampling stations throughout the distribution system network and analyzed for various parameters. See table below for information on the parameters sampled and sampling frequency. Read the weekly distribution testing results in the most recent UBC Annual Water Quality Monitoring Report, report published by Energy & Water Services.

TABLE: Sampling Parameters and Frequency

Total coliforms
E. coli
Free chlorine residual
Halo acetic Acids
Vinyl chloride

A minimum of two times per year, water quality is tested at the tap and/or at drinking water fountains in buildings on campus. The sampling locations vary to cover a large cross-section of campus buildings—different geographical locations, various occupancy (research, operations, student housing, etc), old buildings, high traffic, and buildings for which there have been special water testing requests. Buildings are tested for at least one calendar year through two test periods.

Samples collected in each target building are measured for standard parameters contained in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. These measurements include microbiological parameters (i.e. total coliforms, e-coli, turbidity), chemicals (i.e. arsenic, copper, lead, iron, zinc etc) and physical parameters (i.e. pH, temperature, odour, etc.).

In general, the highest-priority guidelines are those dealing with microbiological contaminants. Guidelines for chemical and physical parameters are:

  • Health-based and listed as maximum acceptable concentrations (MAC)
  • Based on aesthetic considerations and listed as aesthetic objectives (AO)
  • Established based on operational considerations and listed as operational guidance values (OG)

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Where do I find the most recent cold tap water testing results?

A total of 10 buildings were tested in 2020 (summer). All cold drinking water samples and parameters found deviating from the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality are related to aesthetic objectives or operational guidelines and have no known health impact. Note that the water temperature is usually higher inside the buildings during summer months and that pH is a function of temperature. In most cases it is necessary to flush cold water taps longer than 5 minutes to get the freshest tasting water.

Read the latest testing results – Drinking-Water-Combined-Buildings-June2020

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Is it safe to drink hot water from the tap?

At UBC, like any modern water system, we keep our hot water within national standards for safe washing and bathing. We do NOT recommend using hot water from any tap for either direct consumption or food or beverage preparation. This is because hot water can dissolve contaminants more quickly than cold water and hot water systems (tanks, boilers, pipes, etc.) contain metallic parts that can corrode over time, possibly contaminating the water with rust or other particles.

For drinking purposes, like tea or coffee, use cold tap water and heat it in a kettle. If you need to boil water for cooking, always start with cold tap water in your pot. Do not try to speed things up by filling the pot or kettle with hot tap water instead of cold. Boiling the water does not make those contaminants go away.

Again, the general risk from hot water is true everywhere, not just a special case at UBC. So, apply these lessons whether you are here on campus or anywhere else in the world.

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Is filtered water safer than tap water?

Tap water is perfectly safe without a water filter. Drinking water contains chlorine, which has been added to kill bacteria and make your water safer. Most people use a water filter because they prefer the taste.

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Is bottled water safer than tap water?

Many bottled water companies use tap water as their source. Currently, bottled water is not as heavily regulated or tested as tap water. Instead, bottled water is regulated through the Food and Drugs Act and is considered a food product. Additionally, water utilities are required to release information on their water’s quality, while bottled water companies are not.

Across Metro Vancouver everyone is encouraged, wherever possible, to drink cold water from the tap. “Most of the world does not have access to clean drinking water, but we have a pristine source of water here,” says Dr. Patricia Daly, the Chief Medical Health Officer for Vancouver Coastal Health. “It’s all I drink. I don’t drink bottled water.”

Although not required for health reasons, to ensure the freshest supply and best aesthetic qualities, run the cold tap until the temperature is noticeably cooler before drinking the water.

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Who do I contact if I have a concern with drinking water at UBC?

If you have a specific water quality concern, contact the Facilities Manager for your building or call the Service Centre at 604.822.2173.

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