Water quality is not only important to the health of you and your family, but also is very important to your livestock and your bottom line.

Cleaner water equals livestock consuming more water, which means more feed consumption, which increases your profits with healthier, heavier animals. Research has shown that when cows have the option to drink from a trough or from an un-fenced creek, 80% of the cattle will use the trough. Access to clean water increases animal performance, and has shown improved growth in yearlings by up to 23%.

Water is the essence of life, yet how often do we think about it. Testing your water is essential to knowing if your water is safe for you and your family to use and to ensure that your water resource is protected. Over time, land use changes, storm events, contaminant storage issues, or structural degradation of an aging well (or dugout) can change or affect water quality.  Testing your water on a regular basis provides a baseline of water quality, which can be very important if things go wrong. A baseline is important information to have if another party negatively affects your water source. Without it there is no way to prove that changes have occurred.

Knowledge about what is in your water is vital for your health and wellbeing.  Contaminants can enter your water source and negatively affect your health. Nitrates for example, can indicate nutrients (fertilizer, manure and/or sewage) are entering your water source and can be fatal to infants and the elderly or people with other illnesses.  Coliforms (fecal) in your water may indicate that human or animal waste are entering your water source, making it undrinkable.

Arsenic has become a more prominent issue in Northern Alberta. Many of the wells being tested in the area have been positive for this heavy metal.   Arsenic has two forms, organic (arsenic five [As(v)]) which is found in plants, animals and some foods or an inorganic form (arsenic three [As(III)]) that is found in water, soil or the air. Arsenic in drinking water can be attributed to both natural sources and human activity. North Eastern Alberta has high arsenic levels in the groundwater, which may be due to the type of bedrock found here containing pyrites which are enriched with arsenic.

Arsenite (As(III)) is more toxic than organic arsenic (As(v)) and is more prevalent in groundwater due to the low oxygen concentrations. In the Beaver River area As(III) is approximately ten times more prevalent than As(v).  

Generally we are exposed to low levels of organic arsenic through our food; this form of arsenic we can metabolize and excrete in our urine. The arsenic found in the groundwater is more toxic and can affect our gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular system and our nervous system. The maximum acceptable concentration (MAC) is 0.01mg/litre.

It is important to test your well water on a regular basis as levels can fluctuate.  Water treatments are available to reduce the amount of arsenic or change As(III) into As(v) though oxidation.  Reverse osmosis combined with a pre-treatment can remove the majority (roughly 85%) of arsenic from your water.  Distillation is an effective method however you must maintain and clean your distiller and replace the carbon filter within the recommended time. Make sure that your treatment systems meet the NSF/ANSI standards. Conducting a pre-treatment and post-treatment analysis is the only way to prove the effectiveness of your system. To understand minerology of arsenic and uranium click here

Alberta Health Services in partnership with the Beaver River Watershed Alliance have been gathering information and testing local wells for several years. To view the full report on the Drinking Water Quality and Human Health Assessment, Click here

Ways to Protect Your Water Source:

Dugout Water Testing

In the spring of 2012,  five dugouts were tested for fecal coliforms and routine water analysis. This was done to look for differences between dugouts with and without cattle as well if an alternative water source was provided or if cattle had direct access. 

Site A1 is fenced off (2011) with cattle

Site B1 is approx 30 years old with no cattle

Site C1 is a Ducks Unlimited/LARA alternative water project, fenced with cattle

Site D1 is cattle with direct access

Site E1 is no cattle with aeration

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  • To interpret water quality analysis for livestock, click here.
  • For livestock purposes water having a pH greater than 8 is considered poor quality. However surface waters in this region usually have a pH around 8 due to parent soil materials. 
  • Total Dissolved Solids (TDS) is a measure of particles that are greater than 2 microns. Conductivity can be used to measure TDS. The aesthetic objective of TDS for human consumption is less than 500mg/L, but most groundwater TDS is around 1000 mg/L. High levels of TDS are associated with hardness, mineral deposition, corrosion and poor taste. Calcium and magnesium contribute to the hardness of the water. Soft water ranges from 0-50 mg/L, moderately soft from 50-100 mg/L, moderately hard from 100-200 mg/L, hard from 200-400 mg/L, and very hard from 400-600 mg/L. 
  • Potassium is acceptable at rates under 20 mg/L, but may still be acceptable at levels higher than this depending on pH and alkalinity.
  • Iron and manganese have a large effect on aesthetics of the water. Higher values increase discolouration, odour and taste of the water and will decrease the amount of water consumed which also decreases the productivity of the livestock. 

Dugout Water Testing

In the spring of 2015, four sites were tested for basic parameters. As the summer progresses nutrient levels will increase with plant and organism activity.

Site 1 is fenced off (2011) with cattle (same site as C1 from 2012)

Site 2 is a creek, flowing across pasture

Site is a natural spring, fenced off

Site 4 is a Ducks Unlimited/LARA alternative water project, fenced with cattle (same site as C1 from 2012)