Frequently Asked Questions

Q:  I drink water from a well –  should I be concerned about bacteria ?

A: Groundwater is naturally clean and safe for consumption because the soil acts as a filter.  However, contamination may occur following improper installation of well casings or caps, after a break in the casing or as a result of contaminated surface water entering the well. Contamination can also occur if wells are drilled in fractured bedrock without an adequate layer of protective soil and with less than the recommended minimum casing lengthMinistry of Health recommends that well users test  their water periodically to ensure it is safe to drink.

Reference: Health Canada, www.hc-sc.gc.ca, What’s In Your Well? – A Guide To Well Water Treatment And Maintenance

Q: Should I collect the sample from the well, at the creek source or tap in the house?

A: Its best to collect the sample from the tap you normally drink from.  This is usually from the cold tap at the kitchen sink.  Remember to remove aeration devices before collecting and allow the water to run two to three minutes before collecting. The time between collection and testing is important.  The test should be done as soon as possible – preferably within 6 hours.  See instructions above.

Reference: Standard Methods for the Examination of Water and Wastwater 21st Edition.  Section 9060B Preservation and Storage

 Q: My test results show there are Total Coliform in my water.  Is this a health risk?  

A: Total coliforms in low numbers i.e. less than 10/100ml in raw surface water are not implicated in human infection.  However, they are indicators that other, harmful bacteria may be present.  For this reason, we recommend the water be treated (boiled or filtered) if  total coliforms are present.   Total coliforms in groundwater sources can indicate that the groundwater source is vulnerable to contamination.  The presence of fecal coliforms or E.coli is not acceptable for drinking water.  Because all surface water is susceptible to contamination, there are no “standards”  for untreated surface water.

Reference: Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality   Guideline Technical Document – Total Coliforms [Health Canada, 2013].htm

Q:  My water has Fecal and/ or E.coli bacteria.  What can I do to insure the water is safe to drink and,  can I bath in it?  

A: Boil the water for at least 2 minutes before drinking, washing foods, brushing teeth or making ice.  Unless counts are very high,  you can safely bath, do laundry, cook or give the water to pets without boiling.  (The Standard for livestock consumption is 100 fecal coliforms/100ml).

Reference: Health Canada, www.hc-sc.gc.ca, Drinking Water In The Great Canadian Outdoors

 Q: My test results show there are no Total Coliforms, Fecal Coliforms or E.coli in my water.  Is it safe to drink and what about metals?  

A: If your water comes from a creek source it is still susceptible to bacterial contamination depending on weather and events in the watershed.  Metals are not usually a concern unless the creek water is very high in minerals.  If your water comes from a well and especially if the well is deep, metals may be a concern.

 Reference: www.hc-sc.gc.ca, Drinking Water In The Great Canadian Outdoors


Q: What kind of water treatment system is recommended?

A: Water treatment systems for removal of harmful bacteria generally involve filtration or filtration followed by irradiation with UV light.  Systems range in complexity and price. It is best to talk to the suppliers or manufacturers who install the systems.  Some things to consider when inquiring are: initial and installation costs,  maintenance requirements, type of treatment eg. removal of bacteria only or removal of bacteria metals, and organics.

Reference: Health Canada, www.hc-sc.gc.ca, What’s In Your Well? – A Guide To Well Water Treatment And Maintenance

For more information see Health Canada’s water talk fact sheet:

HealthLinkBC Water-borne Infections in British Columbia

Health Canada Guidance on the Use of the Microbiological Drinking Water Quality Guidelines