Quebec’s Canadian water efficiency first

Quebec’s new strategy, announced in March 2019 on World Water Day, has been developed, and is supported by, the municipalities, ministries, and technical partners © R.M. Nunes / iStock

The Canadian province of Quebec is making progress with its ambitious new water efficiency strategy, supporting loss reduction across some 800 municipalities.


The Canadian province of Quebec is completing the important first year of its new 2019-2025 Water Efficiency Strategy. This initiative builds on a previous round of actions to address high levels of water use, including efforts to reduce losses from municipal distribution systems.

An original strategy of the Quebec government was launched in 2011 against a backdrop of water use being some 25% higher than the Canadian average, albeit with the province having particularly abundant water resources.

Former Quebec Water Efficiency Strategy Manager Mathieu Laneuville says the new strategy has been built on the progress made with the original work: “The results from 2017 showed massive improvement across a range of issues, including acoustic surveys of the water distribution system and metering. The 2017 results were successful, with a 32% reduction of water supplied per person compared with 2001. The results were the foundation for Quebec’s [new] strategy, announced in March 2019 on World Water Day, which has been developed and is supported by the municipalities, ministries, and technical partners.” He adds that the lead organisation is Réseau Environnement, the Quebec section of the American Water Works Association (AWWA).

The new strategy aligns with UN SDG 6, and has ambitious targets for reducing water use, the amount put into supply, water losses, and investment in asset maintenance.

In building the strategy, the AWWA Water Loss Control Committee and members of the IWA Water Loss Specialist Group were key sources of advice and expertise. Discussions took place on methodology, KPIs, and what to do to reduce leakage and use.

“Collaboration can play a vital role in applying the most appropriate solutions to face challenges together in the sector”

The strategy targets the distribution systems of some 800 municipalities across the province. Municipalities now have to meet three performance indicators. One is to complete the AWWA’s Free Water Audit Software (FWAS) annually. Another is to have their water loss audit validated by a qualified water loss auditor from the Quebec government. They must also have specific reduction targets for each of their systems.

The 2019-2025 strategy has moved away from use of percentage indicators of water loss, adopting the Infrastructure Leakage Index as the KPI. The goal for the whole province of Quebec is to achieve at least a ‘B’ rating on the International Leakage Performance Category (LPC) classification (see table).

The FWAS software was chosen because Quebec was already an AWWA member and on its Water Loss Control Committee, so the software was already known by government staff and chosen as the best option. Quebec is also an IWA member and in the IWA Water Loss Specialist Group. The FWAS uses a standardised methodology recognised by both AWWA and IWA.

Under the strategy, validation of water loss audits is according to the Level 1 Validation defined by the US Water Research Foundation (‘Level 1 Water Audit Validation: Guidance Manual (Project: #4639A)’,

The improved practices make Quebec the first Canadian province (and the third in North America) to adopt an approach combining Level 1 validation of water loss and system-specific, volume-based performance benchmarking.

“Level 1 validation is often only the initial step in pursuing accurate and consistent water audits,” says Quebec Water Efficiency Strategy Project Manager Yannis Kachani. “After Level 1 validation, gross inaccuracies, incorrect application of methodology, incomplete data, and misleading data validity grades should no longer be issues.” Kachani adds that Level 2 validation investigates inaccuracy in raw water audit data and data management systems, while Level 3 validation looks at inaccuracy in instrumentation and corroborates water audit results with other investigations of Real Loss.


Ahead of the strategy’s launch, five members of the government team successfully completed the Water Audit Validator Certification course provided by experts Will Jernigan, P.E. and Kate Gasner. Intensive two-day training was given to equip the government technical support team with the knowledge and resources to undertake a Level 1 validation of the audits of the municipalities taking part in the strategy. The training programme was modelled on successful US certification programmes established in Georgia and California.

The training programme enabled the validators to discuss specific situations related to the local context and adjust methodology to match. Understanding how AWWA trainers undertake audits was an important part of the training. They used FWAS and the AWWA’s M36 manual water audit methodology, a top-down approach recognised internationally, which makes the strategy more credible and cost-effective. The training programme culminated with an examination including applied concepts and practical exercises, providing verification that the government technical support team had demonstrated adequate competency for performing Level 1 validation of M36 water audits. This enabled the team to move forward with subsequent training to Quebec municipalities.

A major challenge following launch of the strategy was to train the staff of the 800 municipalities involved on the new water loss assessment methodology. To achieve this, the government technical support team undertook a regional training tour. This took place in April and May 2019, presenting the strategy and tools, and focusing on the FWAS. More than 1500 people participated from some 700 municipalities. These represented about 88% of the municipalities targeted by the strategy.

There is also a free web conference online. This will be reviewed annually as needs evolve, and take account of development in international best practice. The remaining municipalities can take advantage of this or call or email for support. The role of the government technical team has evolved to not only validate water audits but also to support and guide municipalities.

Other challenges

There has been a challenge around basing audits on measured use, because of low metering levels. Meter installation is still ongoing, and only a few municipalities had measured all the data needed to derive authorised consumption figures. Assumptions and estimates were therefore needed to complete the audits, and quality will improve in years to come as metering data becomes available.

There was also a language barrier between francophone Quebec and the AWWA tools and guidance manuals, which were written in English. These have had to be translated into French, and there are plans to do the same with the next versions of the M36 manual and FWAS, to ensure the audits keep up with current best practice.

The Quebec government plans the first annual review of the 2019-2025 strategy by the end of August 2020. The three performance indicators will be calculated and compared to the objectives. Average residential use and the province’s Infrastructure Leakage Index (which stems from IWA Water Loss Specialist Group work) will be calculated for the first time to allow international benchmarking.

The government validators also plan to complete the ‘Train the trainers’ class given by the AWWA’s water audit experts. This will allow the validators to train new engineers and engineering students on water audit validation and secure the future of the programme.

Quebec’s example shows how local and international collaboration can play a vital role in applying the most appropriate solutions to face challenges together in the water sector. The strategy will give municipalities new knowledge about their infrastructure assets and drinking water resources, enabling them to ensure their sustainability in the face of issues such as population growth and climate change.



Article based on input from Will Jernigan, Director of Water Efficiency at Cavanaugh, and Mathieu Laneuville.

The IWA Water Loss 2020 conference will be held on 8-11 November 2020, Shenzhen, China.