Get your drinking water tested

Water for domestic use should be from a safe water supply.

Domestic use includes:

  • drinking;
  • cooking;
  • brushing teeth; or
  • washing dishes.

Water from your well should be free from chemicals or microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa. These microorganisms may cause disease or health risks for you or your family.

Testing your well water

Testing your well water gives you a better picture of your water quality and tells you whether it's safe to drink. Just because your neighbour’s well water is safe it does not mean your water is also safe. Sometimes, wells that are a few metres apart have totally different water quality.

Things that affect drinking water quality include:

  • differences in local surface and underground geology (for example, bedrock croppings);
  • the depth of the well (for example, shallow wells are more susceptible to surface water run-off); and
  • well construction (for example, casing may not be sealed).

Which tests should be done and how often?

Bacteriological testing

You can find out if your well water is contaminated by testing for bacteria such as total coliforms or E. coli. Contamination from microorganisms can come from many sources. This includes:

  • the soil;
  • farming;
  • feces of warm-blooded animals (for example, humans or dogs); or
  • a malfunctioning septic system.

A satisfactory test result means that evidence of contamination was not found in your water sample.

New wells should be tested for bacteria and chemicals prior to use. Well water should be tested for the presence of bacteria at least once a year.

Chemical testing

Testing for common chemical and physical traits can give an indication of drinking water quality. Water should meet the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

There are 30 chemical and physical parameters you should test for.

These include:

  • physical tests;
  • dissolved anions;
  • total metals;
  • colour;
  • alkalinity;
  • aluminium;
  • chromium;
  • mercury;
  • conductivity;
  • chloride;
  • arsenic;
  • copper;
  • potassium;
  • dissolved solids;
  • fluoride;
  • barium;
  • iron;
  • selenium;
  • total hardness;
  • sulfate;
  • boron;
  • lead;
  • sodium;
  • pH;
  • nitrate;
  • nitrogen;
  • cadmium;
  • magnesium;
  • uranium;
  • turbidity;
  • nitrite;
  • nitrogen;
  • calcium;
  • manganese; and
  • zinc.

You may want to include extra tests if you think other chemicals may have contaminated your well. For example, hydrocarbons could be present as a result of a fuel spill.

Initially, well water should be tested for contamination over 2 consecutive years. If there are no concerns and there is no significant change in water chemistry from 1 year to the next, then tests can be done at 5-year intervals.

Where can you get your drinking water tested?

Bacteria testing

Water can be tested for bacteria at the Environmental Health Services Water Laboratory. This lab is located at #2 Hospital Road in Whitehorse. There is no cost for this service. The lab tests specifically for total coliforms and E. coli.

You will need to make arrangements to get a proper sampling bottle and a form with sampling instructions. You can do this by stopping by the office or phoning 867-667-8391 (toll-free 1-800-661-0408 extension 8391).

Samples for bacteria analysis must be kept cooler than 10 degrees Celcius, but not frozen. This temperature should be kept during storage and transit to the laboratory. Samples should be delivered within 24 hours of collection.

Chemical, physical and radiological testing

Currently, no Yukon laboratory tests drinking water for chemical, physical and radiological parameters.

Water can be tested for these parameters and bacteria at accredited laboratories in British Columbia and Alberta. The water laboratory you select will provide you with bottles, forms and sampling instructions.

You'll have to pay costs for shipping and testing. The cost of testing for the 30 common parameters is often as much as $200 plus shipping. You may wish to hire a local business to collect your drinking water sample and have it tested.

Environmental consulting and engineering firms are businesses that offer this service.

What should you do if there is a problem with your drinking water?

Total coliforms and E. coli total coliforms may be a result of problems in the well.

These problems include:

  • cracked casing;
  • improper seal around the wellhead; or
  • problems with the distribution system.

These bacteria could also result from improper collection of the sample. You may need to re-sample to confirm results.

Often disinfection of the well will address the problem.

In some cases, remedial work on the well or installation of a water treatment system may be required.

The presence of E. coli indicates contamination from human or animal feces. This may cause serious acute or long-term health problems.

When E. coli is present, we advise you to boil your water or use bottled water.

Although your drinking water may look, taste and smell fine, it may still contain bacteria or chemicals that can cause health problems. Long-term consumption of well water with an excess of arsenic or uranium can cause health problems.

Try to reduce these levels or use an alternate drinking water supply. If you need to, you could use water delivery, bottled water, or create a new well in another location.

Yukon is rich in mineral deposits, so it is not surprising that our ground water may contain chemicals, such as arsenic and uranium. Sometimes these exceed the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.


If you have questions about drinking water, email, phone 867-667-8391, toll free in Yukon 1-800-661-0408, extension 8391, or visit Environmental Health Services at #2 Hospital Road in Whitehorse.