We took a sample to the Public Health Unit…is that enough? 

Lakes, rivers and streams in Ontario can look clear and inviting. One might think you could just walk up, reach down, cup your hands, and take a nice refreshing drink of this life sustaining, natural open water source.  Sadly, this is not such a great idea! The reality of contaminants in rural areas is high, and though most of us are aware of the potential harmful contaminants in some water, developing a full understanding of the complexities of our water sources and systems can be a challenge.


When the ground water travels it can come into contact with nonpoint sources of pollution. Nonpoint sources of pollution are are typically defined as  ‘diffuse’ pollution and refer to those inputs and impacts which occur over a wide area and are not easily attributed to a single source. They are often associated with particular land uses, as opposed to individual point source discharges such as pipes and drains (https://www.forestsontario.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/2012-Low-Impact-Development.pdf).   Nonpoint source pollutants such as fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, human waste, livestock manure, runoff contaminants, toxic chemicals, naturally dissolved minerals and more, can create high quantities of harmful contaminants in our rural water sources.  Of course, the concern is that some of these pollutants may be making it into our drinking water sources!

Most rural properties do not have a municipally maintained source of drinking water and must rely on individuals to ensure the water is safe (potable) for consumption.  This problem does not limit itself to open water sources. Dug and drilled wells can also have contaminants introduced into them via defects or voids in the well which allows surface water (including contaminated water from land uses that are in close proximity), into the well  Of course, for those who draw water from our lakes (very common in cottage country), the potential for contaminated water is also a very real concern.


As many are aware, Ontario Public Health Units provide free water sample kits, complete with  instructions and local drop off centres in most rural community centres.  These kits are provided to all permanent and seasonal residents so that they can have their drinking water tested for potability.  Residents can then receive their test results by phone and or mail.  The Ontario Public Health Unit  Laboratories, test specifically for the indicators of bacterial contamination: Coliform and  E. coli. The health units do not test for other contaminants such as chemicals.  Therefore, even though your test results indicate that there is no bacterial contamination in your drinking water, it still may be unsafe to drink.  I know…unnerving to say the least!

Having said this, it is still very important to complete the potability water test regularly for Coliform and E.Coli.  A minimum of three times per year (spring, summer and fall) is prudent, as the ground water conditions change significantly from season to season.

If you are concerned because local land uses in close proximity to your property might  be adversely affecting your drinking water source, or just for peace of mind would like to test your water for further harmful contaminants, there are independent laboratories throughout Ontario prepared to test private water samples. Alternatively, private well and water source home test kits can be purchased online through leading retailers (i.e: Home Depot). A “go to” web-site, One Green Planet,  has selected 10 home kits that test the safety of your drinking water (http://www.onegreenplanet.org/lifestyle/home-kits-test-the-safety-of-tap-water/).  These can be purchased online and range in price price from $15-$50.


In most cases, there are ways to treat your water to ensure that it is safe for consumption.  In cottage country, this often includes treating water drawn from the lake, as well as dug and drilled wells.

For some local cottage country expertise, we went to  Mike Robitaille, Owner of M & E Enterprises.   Mike  is a licensed plumber and a local water system distributor and installer for Excalibur Water Systems. Excalibur Water Systems is a global manufacturer of water softeners and water treatment equipment and systems, providing comprehensive and economical solutions for water concerns and problems all around the world. Excalibur Water Systems has manufacturing facilities in Canada, and offer complete water treatment systems for a myriad of water quality challenges.

If you call Mike, he will come out to your home or cottage, obtain a water sample, and have it analyzed at Excalibur Water Systems.  From the results of the testing, Excalibur Water Systems will recommend the system that will provide you with clean, fresh drinking water at your home or cottage.  Once it is decided which system will best meet your needs, Mike will return to install the water treatment system.

Contact Information:
M & E Enterprises


Ontario Public Health Unit:

Ontario Safe Drinking Water Act, 2002

Ontario Water Works Association

Drinking Water Ontario

Canadian Environmental Law Association Article

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