Clean water flows in a tidy town

Date 07/12/2016

Written byTaylor Ireland


In this blog we’ve looked at many of the exceptional attractions of Quebec City, from its openness to business, to its lively culture and sports scene, to its vital English-speaking community. But, one of its less obvious, but nonetheless pleasing assets is available at the turn of a tap: Water, clean, fresh water.

Water is something we pretty much take for granted in this country. Much of the world is facing critical challenges of water supply due to droughts, contamination or uncontrolled use, but here in Canada we are accustomed to having however much water we want when we want it.

It’s a simple but remarkable thing that nobody in Quebec City thinks twice about pouring themselves a glass of water from the kitchen faucet and enjoying a drink with no worrisome taste or discolouration. Of course, it was not always that way.

Over the years, governments have invested heavily in infrastructure such as water treatment plants – there are two giant ones in the city – to make such abundance and quality possible. The city draws its water from four sources, the St. Charles River, the Montmorency River, various subterranean sources, and, yes, the St. Lawrence River.

There are reservoirs at various points around the city, but one of particular interest is the one that lies below the Plains of Abraham park. Except for the well-camouflaged mushroom-shaped air vents here and there, you’d really never know that a « cathedral » for water storage lies underneath the park. It’s 240 metres by 95 metres by seven metres high, and holds up to 136 million litres of water. The reservoir was built in the 1930s as a Depression-era job-creation project, with much of the excavation done by men with shovels, not machines.

Except for days in the summer with long stretches without rain, the city has an ample and unrestricted water supply to fill pools, wash cars and water lawns and gardens. The city hires a « water brigade » of students that visit neighbourhoods during hot spells to advise residents on responsible use of water.

And yes, water is free for residential use in the city, although most businesses, institutions and industries are metered and pay a reasonable rate for what they use – the goal is to reduce unnecessary consumption.

The majority of water consumed is for cleaning and bathing purposes – we only drink about 15 percent. I am happy to note that a goodly portion of water used for cleaning is devoted to keeping Quebec City streets exceptionally clean. The cleanliness of the city, in general, is something that seems to instantly strike visitors. A highly mobilized army of municipal workers, from mechanized street-cleaners, to efficient and highly organized garbage removers keep the streets about as clean as they can be. The city even offers a free graffiti removal service, at the same time as it offers grants for graffiti artwork in approved places.

I should mention, as well, the city has a very advanced recycling system with blue boxes and bins, that massively reduces the amount of waste that ends up in a land-fill site. The city’s environmental efforts are worthy of a whole other discussion.

Be it well-tended gardens and lawns, creative landscaping and floral art, it seems residents express their pride in their city of splendours with properties that make a walk or drive a feast for the eyes. The city even gives out trees and flowers each year to help residents spruce up their yards. There are grants available to transform alleys into pleasant passage-ways. For those who like to grow things to eat but lack the garden space – apartment dwellers, for example – there are dozens of community gardens available throughout the city.

This brief overview of some of the aesthetic attributes of Quebec City is proof that the place is not just beautiful, historic, dynamic and energetic, it is blessed with the simple things, like clean water, litter-free streets and well-tended properties, that create an exceptional quality of life.