It is estimated that approximately 25 % of the residents of the Northern River Basins Study area do not receive their drinking water from conventional drinking water treatment facilities. Therefore, these people rely on alternative sources for their drinking water supply. This report assesses the utilization and quality of the different non-conventional sources of drinking water that are used by people that do not consume conventionally treated water. Some of the non-conventional drinking water supplies utilized in the NRBS area include: (1) self-hauled treated water; (2) untreated surface water; (3) dugout water; (4) groundwater; (5) environmental sources of water such as snow, rain, and birch tree water; (6) bottled water; and (7) water treated by a variety of point-of-use technologies. There were four main research components in the assessment of these non- conventional drinking water supplies.
First, the results of an in-depth review of the literature available on non-conventional drinking water sources, drinking water quality and the correlation of drinking water and health is presented in the first part ofthis report. Although the literature was limited on the actual consumption and quality of most of the non-conventional sources of drinking water consumed in the study area, substantial information exists on conventional drinking water quality as well as considerable information on several point-of-use treatment technologies. Essentially, the best type of point-of-use treatment depends on the raw water source. Perhaps the best point-of-use treatment method to use on water o f unknown quality is to boil it. The recommended boiling time in the literature varies considerably from simply heating the water to 50°C to vigorous boiling for 15 minutes. However, the majority of the authors cited a full boil for 1 minute as being sufficient to inactivate most pathogens. Besides boiling, there are numerous other point-of-use treatment technologies that employ disinfection (ultraviolet disinfection, ozonation, chlorination, iodination) and mechanical particle removal processes (such as sedimentation and filtration). The best available technology depends on the raw water source and likely incorporates more than one process to provide multiple barriers to ensure adequate drinking water quality.
The second component of research regarding non-conventional drinking water in the Northern River Basins Study are was to visit selected NRBS communities and interview residents regarding their non-conventional drinking water practices. Remote areas around Fort Chipewyan, John D’Or Prairie, Fox Lake and Atikameg were visited and residents were asked about the sources and utilization on non-conventional drinking water supplies, as well as their overall drinking water quality concerns. It was through these informal interviews that most of the information was collected on the types of non-conventional drinking water used and how it was treated, if at all, prior to consumption. Many of the people interviewed discussed the deterioration of some of the surface water sources in the study area, but the majority of the concerns presented regarding drinking water quality in this study was in regards to the addition of chlorine in the conventional drinking water treatment process. Based on this, it was found that some people who do have conventionally treated water delivered to their home, collect a non-conventional supply of water for consumption such as from a nearby lake or river. This water has been called “special drinking water” by those consumers. It was also based on these findings that a series of population sub-groups that may be particularly pre-disposed to consuming non-conventional drinking water was postulated. First, those that live in remote areas not
serviced by conventional drinking water facilities are obvious consumers of non-conventional drinking water supplies. Second, some NRBS residents may be traditional consumers of alternative drinking water supplies. Many elderly residents may be included in this second group. Third, NRBS residents may consume non-conventional drinking water as a result of cultural activities such as living off the land expeditions or other wilderness activities. And the final group includes those individuals that consume non-conventional drinking water supplies for health reasons. This may include people that drink bottled water for its perceived health benefits as well as those that consume special drinking water to avoid the taste and smell o f chlorine in conventionally treated water.
Third, during these field trips, samples of non-conventional drinking water were collected and these samples were analyzed for various physical, chemical and microbiological parameters. The non- conventional samples collected included untreated lake, river and creek water, spring water, groundwater well water, snow water, bottled water, and one sample of water treated with a point-of- use filter. Although the number of samples collected was limited and does not allow for absolute conclusions, several trends can be hypothesized. It was found that untreated surface water did not meet many of the physical, chemical and microbial guidelines in the GCDWQ. Although the groundwater samples collected met the microbiological limits in the GCDWQ, some physical and chemical parameters may be exceeded. The bottled water samples were found to have a very high background bacterial count and the point of use device tested was found to have actually contributed coliforms to the influent water supply.
The fourth component in the assessment of non-conventional drinking water supplies in the Northern River Basins Study area was to pursue research on the effectiveness on some of the portable point-of- use drinking water treatment filters on the market. The reason for this was because there is a very limited body o f literature regarding these devices, and the claims made by the manufacturers suggest that these units are suitable to provide a safe supply of drinking water for wilderness campers and travelers. For the rigorous laboratory testing of these units, three filters were chosen to represent the larger market. The filters were chosen based on the type of filter media (carbon media, plastic media and silver impregnated ceramic media were selected), the price range (least expensive to most expensive were tested), and each unit was from a different manufacturer. The filters were subjected to an influent test water with a high turbidity, high bacterial count and a high particle count. It was found that only the silver impregnated ceramic filter was capable of reducing the turbidity, bacterial count and particle levels to below recommended levels for supplying a safe drinking water. However, further microbiological tests on this unit are required before it can be recommended for utilization in the study area.