The Rural Water Paradigm
GlassIt is considered reasonable to say that all water sources in Canada have some level of water contamination, no matter how remote. Adding credence to this, it is a requirement in publicly accessed water sources to have monitoring, testing and reporting for specific contaminants to ensure water safety. Publicly accessed areas in all parts of Canada are subject to water policies and procedures; however, this does not apply to rural private residences and other water sources across the country. 

In Canada, individuals who are not supplied with a municipal water source are left to decide what quality of water is acceptable for their residences. As there is no jurisdiction or regulation for water quality or testing requirements, this conceptual idea is what needs to change in order to ensure the water safety for individuals with a rural water source. The consideration should be made for these rural water sources to be looked at with a different perspective; one based on current known data, emerging contaminants, and acknowledgement of the risks associated with current policies. 

Water TestingWhen dealing with these water sources there are no minimum water quality levels, or monitoring practices in place to ensure that contaminants do not make their way into water supply that ultimately flows from rural faucets. It also must be taken into consideration that rural water sources vary greatly in their form. Surface water drawn from lakes, rivers and cisterns or water supplied from deep drilled or shallow dug wells are all examples of potential rural water sources. It is not reasonable to have a single parameter testing policy to apply to all of the varying water sources, as each comes with their own risks for contamination. 

Rural Water Testing 
Is it possible to have one test which is applicable to these varied sources and covers all contaminants? Over the past twenty years, it has been observed that this is often what people perceive when testing is conducted at a public health unit found across the country. This idea is one that many people do not give proper consideration to. While this is not intentional, it is a part of a larger idea; if water is clear, does not smell and doesn’t cause adverse effects, then it must be safe for consumption and use. 

Public water testing (available at no charge from a health unit) generally only tests for two bacterial components out of the 97 parameters currently listed in the Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines (CDWQG). Public health units clearly indicate that additional testing may be required for other parameters, and that they conduct a bacteriological test only. For rural water, this means that without paid laboratory testing, it is not possible to identify the remaining 95 contaminants outlined in the CDWQG. This doesn’t include those which exist and are known, but have no testing requirements due to current regulatory policies. 


The Water Cycle 
For all practical purposes, the amount of water (as a gas, liquid, or solid) can be considered as a constant across the planet. The total amount of water remains essentially unchanged and molecule function simply shifts as it moves between its three forms. It has been well documented that some water contaminants can move through all stages of the water cycle and exist within its solid (snow & ice), gaseous (water vapour) and liquid forms. This means that these contaminants can move freely through the cycles and be deposited in completely different locations, as our changing climate patterns have the ability to move water in larger scale events. 

The continual publication of articles and documents strongly supports that water contamination and the occurrence of contaminant transfer is increasing with the changing climate patterns. Flooding, fires, human influences and changing precipitation patterns are contributing to an accelerated level of water contamination. This is making it difficult for regulators and policy makers to monitor and test in real time. 

It is often many months later when a contamination event is reported and the contamination has gone undetected during the entire time leading up to the report. 

ImageSignificant Threats to Water Quality 
Consider the recent emergence of Per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), also known as “forever chemicals”. These are human-made compounds that persist in the environment and human body. Decades of research have linked PFAS to health issues like cancers, liver and thyroid diseases, prenatal and development issues, and immunosuppression.”1 

Numbering over 4700, PFAS are used as surfactants, lubricants, and repellents (for dirt, water, and grease). They can be found in certain firefighting foams, carpets, furniture, clothing, cosmetics and in food packaging materials. In April of 2021 the Canadian Government has indicated that they will “continue to invest in research and monitoring on PFAS”2 and “within the next 2 years it will publish a state of PFAS report, which will summarize relevant information on the class of PFAS.”2 In October of 2021, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States announced a new road map for regulating these toxic chemicals. These two profound actions by both governments come after decades of research. Full regulation in both Canada and the USA is still a long ways away before enforceable laws are set in place. 

Manganese is an essential nutrient naturally found in the environment and can be present in air, food, water, soil and rocks. It enters drinking water sources in two different ways; when water dissolves minerals that contain manganese and through human activity, such as mining activities, industrial discharge and leaching from landfills. In general, it is more prevalent and found at higher concentrations in groundwater than surface water. Manganese is necessary for good health; it aids digestion, increases bone strength and strengthens immune system function. 

ImageIn 2019, Health Canada's health-based guideline value for manganese in drinking water (0.12 mg/L) changed and took into account new science that suggested potential adverse health effects on the central nervous system, particularly during brain development. “These new guidelines are based on being protective of ongoing consumption of tap water by children and infants, especially infants consuming formula made with tap water. 

Homeowners with private wells are also encouraged to have their water tested for manganese once a year to ensure that the concentration in their water supply is below the new maximum acceptable concentration levels."3 The introduction of this lower limit for manganese is a positive change, as Canada now boasts one of the lowest guideline levels of any country in the world. Despite this, manganese testing remains excluded from any published public health unit water sampling at no charge. Instead, individuals are asked to pay an additional fee for a manganese test. 

Exploring the concept that all water sources are contaminated in some way is not a popular idea and is a challenging problem to address with wide reaching consequences. 

Changing the Narrative 
Published documentation of water contamination has made the undeniable case for the requirement to be established for increased awareness and testing options by public authorities in all rural areas of Canada. The standard bacteriological test, while important, is not sufficient in indicating all contaminants in a water source. The scope of parameters tested needs to be increased to a level where all major known contaminants are tested for. To accomplish this, there needs to be public pressure on regulators, politicians, and government officials to change the current policies and to make overall water quality a publicly funded priority. 

Best PracticeBest Practice Recommendation 
If you reside in the country, do not assume that water is free from contamination by judging from the way it tastes, smells or looks. If you are unsure about your water quality or have questions, consult a certified water treatment professional who can provide you with the necessary information to make a personal choice as to what quality of water is acceptable in your residence. 

Volume 6 - Issue 1 Wahl H2O - Water Awareness
Copyright 2022 Jeff Wahl – Wahl Water | All Rights Reserved
Contact Jeff via email [email protected]

Supporting Information 
This is the Federal Government’s website for the “Be Well Aware” program for the over three million Canadians who rely on a private well for their drinking water: 

  1. Claire Bugos -Very Well Health Published on December 01, 2021 

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