Thursday, 19 April 2018 15:39

Is well water on rural Alberta land being appropriately tested for bacteria before use?

Written by  Demi Knight
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With over 400,000 Albertans relying on groundwater wells for their everyday water supplies, the matter of prevalent testing, treatment and maintenance without government legislation was one question a PhD student from the University of Calgary has spent the last year asking landowners across the province.


From acreage to farmland and everything in between, student, Abraham Munene has worked to conduct research in rural areas of Alberta since 2017, to collect and compile information on what makes people think their well water is safe or at risk of contamination for their everyday use. On April 13, Munene came to the Oldman Watershed Council to share his findings to a crowd of industry professionals and interested members of the public.
“When we started this project, we really just wanted to engage as many people as possible,” said Abraham Munene at his presentation at the Oldman Watershed Council main office in Lethbridge. 
“We wanted people to get involved to share their feedback as well water owners and the concerns or precautions they may take to keep their water bacteria free for use.”
This new research, which is conducted through sending out surveys and interview questions to landowners in rural Alberta was formed with the ultimate objective of describing the perceptions, knowledge and beliefs residents have of their well water quality and contamination risks.
Munene, who is doing this research to help obtain his PhD with the University of Calgary, has been working alongside these landowners now for the past year to assess what barriers exist to prevent well water owners from using management practices against bacteria and water contamination on their own land.
Munene also says that his research looks closely into whether livestock is associated with contamination by these landowners, and if the presence of this livestock could be the cause of coliform/E. Coli in water wells throughout the province.
“The interesting thing we found through this research was the discrepancy between those who do and do not have livestock on their lands with whether they believed said livestock could be an added factor to the prevalence of  bacteria,” said Munene during his presentation.
“We also found that farmland owners were more likely to test their water for bacteria than acreage owners.”
During his presentation, Munene shared his compiled findings with the audience that showed 78% of all farmland owners who participated in the survey tested their well water in some form, however only 59% of acreage owners did the same.
Munene also went on to say, that throughout the course of their survey, their findings suggested that the level of education received by well owners was not a factor in determining those who did and did not test their waters. He also suggested that a common reason some people stated they didn’t want to participate in bacteria testing was because of worry of property value decrease in the future.
However, Munene did state that the importance of well water testing for all those using groundwater is imperative, and although his research did imply many are still undetermined on the risk factors of not testing, he hopes that through his research people will come to a more positive conclusion in the near future.
“It is your responsibility as a landowner to test your water, because we do not have legislation for it right now, so we need to personally make sure we are each taking care of it in appropriate ways.”
With a study recently done by the Journal of Water and Health showing that 1.5% of wells in Alberta between the years of 2004 and 2012 were contaminated with coliform and E. coli, Munene added that making bacteria testing more common in the province is key to safe well water in the future.
“When this contamination happens it can be very serious, so we hope to create more awareness on how these risks can be found and assessed.”
Munene’s research which was presented to an audience on April 13 at the Oldman Watershed Councils office in Lethbridge, will be summarized and available for viewing for interested members of the public on their website in the upcoming weeks at http://oldmanwatershed.ca/

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