How Safe Is Your Water

How Safe Is Your Water

How Safe Is Your Water

How Safe Is Your Water
You’re thirsty.  You go to your kitchen, turn on the tap, and pour yourself a glass of water.   We assume the water in our home is safe to drink, but is it?  According to the BC government website, our water is generally very safe.  But from time to time, there are outbreaks of water borne diseases.  These diseases are caused by pathogens including viruses, bacteria and chemicals which get into the water supply.  The drinking water supply is broken down into the source water, the treatment system and the distribution system.  The distribution system includes the plumbing system inside your home. So how safe is your water?

How do Pathogens get into the water supply?

This happens when lakes, community water supply pipes or reservoirs are contaminated by animal waste or sewage.  In addition, unusual tastes, odours, and colours may be caused by breaks or leaks in the watermain, chlorine, and cloudiness or turbidity.  Water can also become contaminated by various products and materials it comes into contact with.  As water is a solvent, it can leach metals and chemicals from pipes, fittings, and fixtures.

How do we know if our water is safe to drink?

In Canada, the safety of drinking water is ensured by provincial, territorial, federal and municipal governments.  The provinces and territories handle the day to day responsibility of providing safe drinking water, and municipalities oversee the water treatment facilities.

Guidelines and legislation

Health Canada’s Water and Air Quality Bureau develops national Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.  These guidelines provide drinking water requirements for all Canadians.

For some contaminants like eColi, guidelines are very clear as people will become ill very soon after drinking contaminated water.

Health Canada also contributes to the World Health Organization guidelines for drinking water.  It also shares information with other government agencies including the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

In BC, there are two pieces of provincial legislation which govern drinking water requirements, the Drinking Water Protection Act, and Drinking Water Protection Regulation.

How are guidelines and legislation implemented?

What is water tested for?

Drinking water officers who work for our local health authorities oversee drinking water safety and water systems.  They issue operating permits, and assist suppliers with permit and legislation compliance.  Other provincial employees involved in water safety include medical health officers, environmental health officers and public health engineers.

In addition, water suppliers must comply with conditions on their operating permits.   These conditions include monitoring water quality, and water treatment.  Suppliers must produce an annual report which includes drinking water quality tests.  Other information in the annual reports include information on water sources, monitoring programs, quality testing parameters and frequency, temperature, and waterworks projects.

Water is analyzed for pathogens and organisms by approved laboratories.  Drinking water test results show whether the bacteria levels and turbidity meet health standards.

Testing is conducted for bacteriological, chemical, physical characteristics and metals, disinfection byproducts, organic compounds, and aesthetics.  Bacteriological testing includes eColi, total coliform, and HPC.  Chemical levels of chlorine, conductivity and PH are determined.  Physical testing includes temperature and cloudiness or turbidity.  The levels of common metals  like copper, iron, lead, and zinc are tested.  The main aesthetic considerations are odour and taste.

What happens if there is a problem?

If there is a problem with the water supply, the suppliers must notify the public.  Our local health authorities issue water quality advisories and boil water notices.

Who do you call if you have water issues?

If you see brown or cloudy water flowing from your tap, the water has a bad taste or smell, or no water comes out of your taps, call your local city or municipal water office.  If you and your neighbours have water pressure issues, notify the water office.  In Vancouver, you can report water quality issues on the City of Vancouver website.

Drinking water contacts are available on the BC government website on the Health Authority Contacts page.

Further information on water safety is available on the Federal government website.  Some interesting information can be found in the It’s Your Health and Water Talk articles.

So the next time you turn on your tap for a glass of water, you can rest assured that your drinking water is safe to drink.

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