What’s in your water? Now is the time to find out

TWO TESTS There are two free tests available — 
one to test for bacteria and the other for minerals

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Testing well water can be a chore that folks tend to put off, but it’s easy, fast and best of all, it’s free to do. Alberta Health Services offers the testing, and all landowners have to do is drop by a community health centre or health unit to pick up a test kit.

There are two kinds of tests available — a bacteriological analysis and a chemical analysis. The first tests for bacteria that may indicate fecal contamination from sewage or manure. The second measures the concentration of naturally occurring minerals in the water. Most minerals will merely cause an issue with the taste, odour or colour, but there are a few that can have negative health consequences.

Bacteriological tests should be performed twice a year on wells deeper than 50 feet, and four times annually on wells less than 50 feet deep. Chemical tests only need to be done every two to five years. Though it’s a busy time of year with calving and seeding, then weaning and harvesting, the best times to test are during the spring and the fall.

It’s important to continually test, even if the results have always come back without any issue in the past. As more wells are drilled and there are increased disturbances in the aquifer, there is greater risk of contamination. Water can also become tainted by well caps and casings incorrectly installed, or because of contaminated surface water entering the well.

To collect the water, use an untreated source before it gets to a water softener or any other treatment. If collecting from a faucet, let the water run for five minutes first before filling the container provided as part of the test kit. Follow the instructions explicitly. Samples must be turned back in within 24 hours, to any community health centre or health unit. The collection bottles should be stored in the fridge until they are dropped off. They should not be frozen, and ice cubes should not be used.

The tests are conducted at the Drumheller Environmental Public Health office, and results are returned by mail within seven to 10 business days for bacteriological tests, and eight to 10 weeks for chemical tests. If there is a troubling result from a bacteriological test, a public health inspector will be in contact by telephone, usually within three days of testing.

Samples are only eligible for the testing program if the water is intended for human consumption. Tests for financial transactions such as mortgages, or for the detection of dissolved gasses or for agricultural purposes will not be performed. Water may need to be tested more frequently than normal if there has been flooding or drought, or if a well hasn’t been used for some time. If the colour, smell or taste of well water changes suddenly, the water should be tested again to ensure remains safe to drink.

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