5 W's of Water Testing

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Posted on May 04, 2017

Scientists have long understood the link between unseen contaminants in water and illnesses. And so back in the 1900s, filtration and disinfection became mainstays for municipal water treatment, and regulations for the quality of public drinking water systems were established.  

Why Test Your Water?

If your water is supplied by a municipality, large or small, your water supply is tested routinely, at the source.  However, many of the pipes buried beshutterstock_138204362.jpgneath our cities have been in place since the introduction of wide-spread water treatment. This aged and, in many cases, crumbling infrastructure now poses its own risk, which is why it’s smart to test the water where you use it – at your tap. 

But what if you are on a private water supply? That could be a well, lake water, or even a rainwater tank. In these cases, no one is testing your water unless you are! It’s possible that your water was tested when you moved in or drilled a new well, but microbial water quality changes over time and can be impacted by extreme weather events, land-use changes, or a nearby failing septic system. Many water contaminants cannot be seen or even tasted in water, so the only way to assess the quality of your water supply is to test it.  Even if the presence of a particular contaminant is readily apparent, such as the red-coloured stains on fixtures left by iron in the water, getting it tested will quantify the problem, making the best water treatment choice easier.

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When water testing makes sense?

Well, the simple answer is, all the time. You never know when your water quality might change. But here are some key events you may want to keep in mind as a red flag to test your water:

  • Change to your water's colour, taste, or odour
  • If someone in your family has or develops a weak immune system from illness or medical treatment
  • Your family is growing
  • Unexplained gastrointestinal illness in anyone who has been drinking your water
  • Your moving into a new home

For private well owners, basic testing for bacteria and nitrates is recommended by public health authorities, like the EPA or Health Canada, at least once a year. Other contaminants you may only need to test for once, such as hardness or iron, or infrequently, like radon. But this will depend on the prevalence of naturally occurring substances in the groundwater in your area. Again, your local public health department can provide specific guidance.

Where to test?

Public health units often provide testing. Otherwise, check your local listings for a certified laboratory that specializes in potable water tests. Regardless, you will want to obtain a testing kit with a sterile sample bottle. Follow the instructions carefully to make sure you don’t accidentally contaminate the sample, which could impact the test results. Consider where you take the actual water sample – at the wellhead, before any water treatment equipment, or at the tap. where to test-933915-edited.jpg

For some helpful tips to understanding your test results click here!