The Provincial Laboratory of Public Health (ProvLab) tests private drinking water systems for bacteria (total coliforms and
E. coli bacteria) that may show if your water is contaminated with sewage or manure. These are called indicator bacteria. ProvLab can’t test your water for every type of harmful germ. For example, they don’t check for viruses like hepatitis or protozoa like Giardia.
Test your water at least 2 times a year. Call a public health inspector to see what’s best for your water system.
Coliforms are a group of bacteria that are almost everywhere. They are in soil, plants, sewage, and manure.
E. coli are bacteria that people and some animals have in their intestines. If your water sample has
E. coli, it means your drinking water has likely been contaminated by sewage or manure.
It depends. The first sample you send to ProvLab will not tell you how many coliforms or
E. coli there are or where they came from. If your first sample finds coliforms or
E. coli, you will need to collect a second sample. Results from your second sample will tell you the number of total coliforms and
Your water sample may have coliforms if:
Try to find out how coliforms got into your well water. Call a public health inspector for more
Your first sample will have a result of either absent/nil or present for both total coliforms and
What it means
The result of the second sample you submit will give a number instead of just saying present.
What it means
What to do
Your water sample may not have been tested if the:
If your sample wasn't tested, you will find the reason why near the bottom of your report.
Drinking water that’s contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or other germs can make you sick. You can get sick if you drink contaminated water or use it to prepare food, wash fruits and vegetables, or brush your teeth. You can’t see germs in water, but they can still make you sick.
Water from surface sources is not safe to drink. Sewage and manure can get into surface water sources easily, which can contaminate the water. Surface water includes water that comes from:
Water from surface needs to be filtered to remove cysts (like
Giardia) and then disinfected to control bacteria and viruses. To do this, use a:
After you install a system, test your water to make sure the system is working.
Deeper wells (more than 50 feet deep and 300 feet from a river or lake) are usually safer than shallow wells because your water is less likely to be contaminated with manure or sewage.
Inspect all wells (shallow and deep) 2 times a year, like in the spring and in the fall, to make sure the well head is in good condition. This can prevent surface water from contaminating ground water.
People oftern forget to take care of their private water wells. If your well is in poor condition, your water might not be safe. To check the condition of your well, check closely that:
Take time to look at your water system closely so you can find any problems with your well early. This may prevent other more expensive maintenance or repairs. It also keeps your family safe and healthy.
Don’t drink untreated surface water—it isn’t safe.
If you have any questions about water, contact Alberta Health Services Environmental Public Health.
Current as of: November 19, 2021
Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services
This material is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional. This material is intended for general information only and is provided on an "as is", "where is" basis. Although reasonable efforts were made to confirm the accuracy of the information, Alberta Health Services does not make any representation or warranty, express, implied or statutory, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, applicability or fitness for a particular purpose of such information. Alberta Health Services expressly disclaims all liability for the use of these materials, and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.