Testing, monitoring and sampling requirements: small drinking water systems
Protect your drinking water by keeping potential contaminants away from your water source.
The Health Protection and Promotion Act – Ontario Regulation 319/08 (Small Drinking Water Systems) requires you, as the owner or operator of a small drinking water system, to provide users with safe drinking water at all times and to know your responsibilities for the type of system you operate.
How to keep your drinking water safe
Protect your drinking water at the source by:
- identifying potential contaminants, such as run-off from farming activities and malfunctioning septic systems
- keeping these contaminants away from your water source
- ensuring your private well is soundly built to keep out contaminants
Monitor your drinking water system regularly:
- have a professional lab test your water regularly
- check regulations to see how often to test drinking water
- check treatment equipment, particularly if chlorine is used to disinfect water
Treat your water with a disinfection system if lab results show unacceptable levels of contamination. This is especially important for surface water sources.
Maintain your drinking water system:
- Take good care of the pipes, pumps, valves, storage tanks, reservoirs, meters and fittings.
- Check your entire system from the water source to the tap.
- Consider a preventative maintenance program. It is always best to stop the problem before it starts.
- If you use chlorine to disinfect your water, test regularly. Kits to test water quality are available from local suppliers.
- Check your equipment regularly to make sure it works properly.
Notify the public if there is a problem with your small drinking water system, whether it is a poor water sample test result or equipment that is not working properly.
- post notices to get the word out
- post instructions at all taps
- discuss the problem with your public health inspector
Well water may not require treatment if the well is secure and regular samples show acceptable water quality. Consult with professional suppliers to identify and install the appropriate methods for treatment where required.
A public health inspector will conduct a site-specific risk assessment of your small drinking water system and will list requirements to monitor, sample and test your system in a directive.
Testing requirements depend on several factors, such as:
- the source and quality of the water supply to your system
- the type of treatment methods used in your system:
- you may be required to test daily or several times per week to ensure the drinking water is adequately treated
- you may be required to collect samples from several locations in the distribution system depending on the size of the system
- the presence of chemical, physical or radionuclide parameters:
- you may be required to test your drinking water for the presence of chemical (nitrate or lead), physical (turbidity) or radionuclide (uranium) parameters in specific circumstances
To know whether your treatment methods and maintenance practices are effective, you should develop and implement a monitoring program for your small drinking water system. Monitor it routinely to ensure the drinking water provided to users is safe to drink and, where required, is effectively treated.
Steps to include in your monitoring program:
- develop a check sheet
- list all of the items to be monitored, the frequency of monitoring and the sampling location(s), consistent with the directive issued for your small drinking water system
- record the activity
- keep records of all operational activities in accordance with the regulations and any directive issued for your system
- it is important to keep records such as:
- treatment residuals results, lab test results, equipment maintenance and other operational requirements, including any adverse results or observations and corrective actions taken
The frequency, number and type of samples will be outlined in the directive for the small drinking water system. The directive may also dictate what location(s) you must take water sample(s) from. To begin, you must select a commercial lab that is licensed by the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks to test for E. coli, total coliforms or any other parameters listed in your directive.
The Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks has a current list of labs licensed to perform tests of drinking water samples, you can also call their public information centre at 1.800.565.4923.
Tips before collecting a drinking water sample:
- Before you collect water samples, contact the lab you’ll be sending your samples to for testing. Follow the sampling instructions provided to you.
- Take the drinking water sample from any tap after the water has entered the distribution or plumbing system. It is preferred that the sample is taken from a cold-water tap commonly used by the public for drinking purposes.
- It is important to work in a clean area and to keep all of the equipment used during sampling clean (for example, the sample bottles, the transport container, the surface where the water bottles will be stored, etc.)
- Attach the label provided by your licensed laboratory to the bottle before taking the sample. On the label, put the date, your drinking water system identification number and the location where the sample will be taken.
- Wash your hands or wear new, clean disposable gloves.
Properly collecting a drinking water sample:
- Remove any aerators, tap screens, hoses, or filters on the tap.
- Use an alcohol swab or bleach and water solution to clean the mouth of the tap before collecting the sample. Do not flame the tap.
- Let the water run until it is cold (2 to 5 minutes) before collecting the sample.
- Use a sterile sampling bottle provided by a licensed laboratory to collect the water. These bacteriological sampling bottles have tamper-proof seals. Don’t use one if the seal has been broken; ask the laboratory for a new one.
- Don’t rinse the sampling bottle before using, or you will remove some or all of its preservative and ruin the sample.
- Don’t touch the inside or lip of the sampling bottle or its cap, otherwise you may contaminate your sample. For the same reason do not place the bottle cap face down on any surface while filling the bottle with the sample. The inside of the cap and container should only come into contact with the air and the collected sample of drinking water.
- Fill the sample bottle to the fill line. Adjust the tap flow rate to prevent splashing. Fill the bottle up to the fill line, leaving an air space. Do not allow the water to overflow. The air space is needed to conduct the test in the laboratory.
- Cap the bottle immediately after collecting the sample. Put the cap on tightly to prevent leakage. Remember not to touch the inside of the cap or the mouth of the bottle with your hands!
How to store your drinking water sample and send it to the laboratory
- Submit your drinking water test sample to the licensed laboratory as quickly as possible after collection, preferably within 24 hours. To give the most accurate results, testing for bacteria must begin within 24 hours of collecting the drinking water sample. Be sure to obtain clear instructions from the laboratory regarding sample submission drop-off time.
- Refrigerate samples until ready for shipping. It is best to keep the sample between 4-10°C. Do not allow samples to freeze.
- Ship your sample bottles or containers to the laboratory in coolers, or in foam pack containers, with ice bags or ice packs. Do not pack the bottles in loose ice, as this may contaminate the sample. If you only have loose ice, encase the sample/container in waterproof packaging or a sealed container.
- Ensure the laboratory’s Chain of Custody form (provided by the laboratory) is completed in full and send it to the laboratory along with the collected sample. If sending it inside the cooler containing the sample, ensure that the form is enclosed inside a waterproof package (for example, a new resealable plastic bag).
Understanding drinking water test results
The lab report will provide you with two test results, one for E. coli and the other for total coliforms present in your drinking water supply. Total coliforms exist naturally in animal waste, soil, and vegetation. The presence of these bacteria in your supply may suggest that surface water is seeping into your well or for surface water supplies that your treatment is no longer working. E. coli bacteria are found in human and animal digestive systems. Their presence may suggest your water supply is contaminated by manure or sewage from a local septic system or feedlot.
The presence of these bacteria in your water can be dangerous to one’s health.
Recording your samples and test results
- For non-adverse test results, the licensed laboratory is required to send you a report on the test of your drinking water sample within 28 days of the lab validating the results. These lab reports must be kept on file and available for viewing at any time.
- For adverse test results, the laboratory is required to report the results to you and to Public Health Sudbury & Districts immediately after the results are obtained. This will allow you to take the necessary action to address the issue that caused the adverse condition. In addition, the lab will fax the Notification of Adverse Test Results and Issue Resolution form to the appropriate contact at the small drinking water system and to Public Health Sudbury & Districts.
An adverse water result must be reported to the Medical Officer of Health immediately using the notification of adverse test results and issue resolution form. Your public health inspector will work with you to ensure that the public is kept safe.
This item was last modified on August 27, 2018