How do I know that my municipal water is safe to drink?
Effective treatment is paramount in ensuring that water is safe to drink. Water treatment facility operators, Alberta Environment and the Regional Health Authorities each have a responsibility to ensure safe drinking water for Albertans. Facility operators are responsible for the day-to-day operation of treatment plants and must operate in accordance with the standards set out by Alberta Environment. Facility owners are required to report to Alberta Environment anytime they cannot meet their specified terms and conditions.
In addition, the Provincial Laboratory of Public Health (Microbiology) performs microbiological testing of drinking water samples taken by the system owner. Drinking water quality concerns are reported to and addressed by Regional Health Authorities.
Where does our drinking water come from?
Alberta’s drinking water comes from surface water sources such as rivers, lakes or reservoirs, or from groundwater. Groundwater is further divided into two distinct types: shallow groundwater that can be impacted by surface water source and high quality groundwater. Shallow groundwater that can be impacted by surface water and is also referred to as ground water under the influence or groundwater under the influence of surface water (GUI). To ensure that the health of Albertans is protected, this ground water under the influence is treated in the same manner as surface water because it contains microbiological or organic organisms. High quality groundwater is not subject to the same health related concerns and therefore does not require the same level of treatment.
What affects the quality of Alberta’s water sources?
Climatic events, such as rain or drought have the largest impact on water quality. Periods of heavy rain or extended drought will affect water quality.
Water sources are also affected by land use activities. For example, agricultural operations can cause microbiological or organic contamination through improper management of animal manure, fertilizers and pesticides. Industrial operations with effluent discharges can also challenge source water quality. Municipal development can have an impact if potential contaminant sources, such as municipal wastewater effluent discharges or storm water run-off, are not properly managed. Individuals can negatively impact water sources by improperly disposing of pollutants such as used oil and overusing chemical pesticides and fertilizers on lawns.
What kind of testing is done to ensure my drinking water is safe?
Water treatment operators regularly sample and test water, then analyze their data to know how effectively their treatment and distribution processes are working to provide safe drinking water. Physical parameters, such as turbidity, pH and colour are monitored.
Monitoring is also done on treated water before it enters the distribution system, and at random locations throughout the distribution system. This monitoring focuses on microbiological quality.
In addition to regularly monitoring, annual or semi-annual testing for specific organic and inorganic parameters may also be done, depending on the nature of the source water. Testing includes health-based chemical parameters listed in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality published by Health Canada.
How can I be sure my drinking water is tested regularly?
Facility approval conditions outline the operational monitoring and reporting that is required of facility operators, and how frequently it must be done. Public access to the details in Approvals issued by Alberta Environment is available through the Authorization/Approval Viewer. The requirements for facilities operating under a Code of Practice is available at:
How do I know my water treatment facility is in compliance with the conditions of its approval?
Alberta Environment regularly checks facilities’ drinking water quality monitoring results against approved water quality guidelines. In addition, Alberta Environment conducts periodic inspections of water treatment facilities to ensure compliance with Approval conditions. When incidents of non-compliance are identified, the Department works directly with the drinking water facility to ensure safe drinking water and optimize facility performance.
Does Alberta’s water need to be treated before we can drink it?
Yes. Alberta’s water sources must be treated before they can be safely used for drinking water. Source water may contain harmful bacteria, protozoa or viruses that, if ingested, could cause severe intestinal illness.
Source water may also contain other chemical substances that could affect human health with prolonged exposure. Treatment is required to remove or reduce these substances.
How is Alberta’s water treated?
In Alberta, the minimum level of treatment for surface water sources and shallow groundwater that can be impacted by surface water is either chemically assisted filtration and disinfection, or slow sand filtration and disinfection. Occasionally, additional treatment is required, depending on the nature of the water source.
Deep groundwater sources usually don’t require treatment such as filtration and do require continuous and effective disinfection. Water found in aquifers is generally of good quality because the earth’s underground formations act as a filter removing many impurities.
What is filtration and how does it help make source water safe to drink?
Filtration is the process of physically removing suspended particles in water by passing it through a porous medium. Suspended particles of organic and inorganic matter cause surface water to appear cloudy. This cloudiness, or turbidity, is monitored prior to, and following, the filtration process.
Water treatment filtration systems include both chemical and physical processes. Pretreatment makes the particles in the water clump together so that they can be more readily settled and filtered out. Mechanical devices are used to continuously mix the water at the pretreatment stage so that all of the water gets treated prior to being filtered.
Filtration removes a large portion of the pathogens that make water unsafe to drink, including the protozoan parasites like Cryptosoridium and Giardia.
What is disinfection?
After source water has been filtered it must be disinfected to treat any bacteria, viruses and protozoa that did not get removed during filtration. A chlorine residual must also be maintained throughout the distribution system to keep treated water safe.
Chlorine is the most common disinfectant used in Alberta, although there are alternatives such as chloramines, ozone and ultraviolet radiation. Each type of disinfectant has advantages and disadvantages that must be considered when designing a waterworks facility.
Can Albertans view the data collected by water treatment facility operators?
Alberta Environment posts electronic reports from Alberta’s approved water treatment facilities on its website. Data most important to drinking water quality, such as turbidity, microbiological quality, and disinfectant residual can be viewed.
How will I know if my drinking water becomes unsafe?
The Regional Health Authorities are mandated through the Regional Health Authority Act to protect the health of the community and to prevent disease. They work closely with treatment operators and Alberta Environment in monitoring the status of drinking water, and are responsible for issuing boil water advisories or boil water orders when situations warrant such action. When this does happen, consumers should follow the recommendations provided by their Regional Health Authority with respect to the procedure for boiling water prior to consumption.
What is the greatest threat to my drinking water?
Microbiological contamination is the greatest threat to drinking water and ensuring adequate treatment is the best defense.
Why is fluoride added to my municipal drinking water?
Water fluoridation is the practice of adding fluoride compounds to water with the intended purpose of reducing tooth decay. Numerous scientific studies and research support the benefits of fluoride, in the proper concentrations, in drinking water.
Is the operation of my treatment facility regulated?
Yes. All municipal waterworks facilities and distribution systems must have a specified number of certified operators. Alberta Environment administers the Water and Wastewater Operator Certification Program that offers a program of varied levels of operator certification based on the complexity of the treatment required..
Do qualified personnel operate my water treatment plant?
Yes. In Alberta, operators must fulfill the requirements of a certification process that includes education, experience, successful completion of examinations, and ongoing training.
How do I know if my community is part of a regional drinking water system?
A regional system is defined as two or more communities that provide treated drinking water from a central facility. In Alberta, these communities often form a Regional Commission, a legal entity responsible for quality and delivery of drinking water.
Why can’t I find all my towns’ water quality data on-line?
Not all Alberta’s drinking water facilities participate in online reporting. The facilities come online as they obtain the necessary electronic equipment, Internet access and confidence through training. Printed copies of drinking water quality reports are available through your local Alberta Environment office.
What are Alberta’s drinking water standards and legislation?
Alberta has the authority to regulate the treatment of drinking water through the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act, and regulations including the Potable Water Regulation. Under this legislation, water from regulated waterworks systems must meet Health Canada’s Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality. The Potable Water Regulation outlines requirements such as the design, performance and operation of waterworks facilities. The Potable Water Regulation also requires all facilities to meet the Standards and Guidelines for Municipal Waterworks, Wastewater and Storm Drainage Systems.
What does compliance mean?
Compliance refers to the ability of the drinking water system to meet the terms and conditions of the approval or registration.
Is water from my private well safe to drink?
If you get your drinking water from a private water well, you are responsible for ensuring it is safe to drink through proper treatment, maintenance, disinfection, and quality testing.
What kind of testing should I do on the water from my private well?
Water from private wells should be tested at least once a year for potentially harmful bacteria. A routine chemical analysis should be done every three to five years to monitor the chemicals and can identify changes if they occur. Non-routine, specialized testing can be done for chemical contaminants such as pesticides or hydrocarbons when unusual situations occur that cause you concern about the safety of your water.
Where do I go to get testing done on the water from my private water well?
You are responsible for testing your well water, and working with your Regional Health Authority to submit the tests to a laboratory for analysis.
Your Regional Health Authority can provide information on proper sampling procedures, including where the sample should be taken, how long the well should be pumped prior to sampling, how long the sample can be stored, and the length of time allowed for delivery to the laboratory. A fee may be charged.
A health inspector can assess your test results and determine if your water is safe to drink. The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, published by Health Canada will be used to establish whether any of the parameters tested exceed maximum acceptable concentrations.
Where can I go to find out more about drinking water quality?
More information is available from:
Water Wells that Last
Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment
Canadian Water and Wastewater Association
Western Canada Water and Wastewater Association
American Water Works Association
U. S. Environmental Protection Agency – Drinking Water site