The Provincial Laboratory of Public Health (ProvLab) tests private drinking water systems for indicator bacteria (total coliforms and
E. coli bacteria) that may show if the water is contaminated with sewage or manure. However, the ProvLab can’t test water for every type of harmful germ. For example, they don’t check for viruses (e.g., hepatitis) or protozoa (e.g.,
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 (e.g., soil, vegetation, sewage, manure).
The first sample you send to ProvLab will be tested for total coliforms, but it won’t tell you how many or the source of the bacteria. Follow-up sample results will tell you the number of total coliforms in the sample.
Your water sample may have coliforms in it if:
Try to find out how coliforms got into your well water or call a public health inspector for more information.
E. coli are bacteria that people and some types of animals have in their intestines.
The first sample you send to ProvLab will also be tested for
E.coli, but it won’t tell you how many or the sources of the bacteria. Follow-up sample results will tell you the number of
E.coli in the sample. If the sample has
E. coli, it means your drinking water has likely been contaminated by sewage or manure.
Result: Total Coliforms = absent/nil,
E. coli = absent/nil
What it Means:
Result: Total Coliforms = present
or E. coli = present (the second sample will say a number instead of just saying present)
What it Means:
If your sample wasn’t tested, it will tell you why near the bottom of the report. This can happen if the:
Drinking water that’s contaminated with bacteria, viruses, or other germs can make people sick. It’s important to understand where your water comes from so you can understand how safe it is to drink and use in your home.
Sewage and manure can get into surface water sources easily, which can contaminate it. Germs can’t be seen in water, but they can still make people sick. People can get sick if they drink contaminated water or use it to prepare food, wash fruits and vegetables, or brush their teeth. Surface water includes water that comes from:
Water from surface sources is not safe to drink and needs to be
filtered to remove cysts (like
Giardia) and then
disinfected to control bacteria and viruses. To filter and disinfect for bacteria and viruses use a:
After you install a system, test your water to make sure the system is working right.
Deeper wells (more than
50 feet deep and
300 feet from a river or lake) are usually safer because the water is less likely to be contaminated with manure or sewage.
Inspect all wells (shallow and deep) 2 times a year (e.g., in the spring and in the fall) to make sure the well head is in good condition to prevent surface water from contaminating ground water.
Private water wells are often neglected. If your well is in poor condition, the water might not be safe or good quality. 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, call
Environmental Public Health in your area.
Current as of: April 1, 2018
Author: Environmental Public Health, Alberta Health Services
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