Drinking Water in the NWT

Frequently Asked Questions

What water quality tests are required under the Water Supply System Regulations?

Chlorine and turbidity are tested on a daily basis.  Each month, a minimum of four  water samples are taken to test for bacteria.  Once per year, water samples are taken to test for chemical and physical parameters (metals, Total Dissolved Solids, pH, etc.). Additional details can be found under Monitoring and Testing.

Who is responsible for ensuring community governments are in compliance with sampling and testing requirements, and what happens if they are not in compliance?

Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are responsible for ensuring community governments are in compliance with sampling and testing requirements.  EHOs receive chlorine, turbidity, chemical and bacteriological reports on a regular basis from water treatment plant operators.  This information is assessed by the EHOs to ensure they are in compliance with NWT drinking water safety legislation.  EHOs also inspect each water treatment plant twice per year.

If a community government is not in compliance, then corrective action is required.  Corrective action can vary depending on the circumstances and the seriousness of the problem.  It may be as simple as taking another water sample or as major as issuing a Boil Water Advisory for the entire community.

Who has primary responsibility for providing safe drinking water in NWT communities?

Primary responsibility for providing safe drinking water falls to the community governments.  Community governments are responsible for ensuring that trained staff treat and monitor the water on a daily basis.  There are other agencies with funding, monitoring and enforcement responsibilities but the primary responsibility lies with the community governments.

What is the difference between raw and treated water?

Raw water is water you find in nature before it is treated.  This can be water straight from a river, lake or well.  It also includes melted ice or snow.  Raw water often contains dirt and microorganisms that can make people sick.

Treated water is raw water that is processed in a plant to remove dirt and destroy microorganisms.  Filters, chlorine and UV are some of the things used to turn raw water into treated water.

Why is our water treated?

Water is treated in order to kill any disease-causing microorganisms, which can be potentially fatal, and to remove any element or chemical that is above the maximum acceptable concentration or aesthetic objective of the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.  Water is also treated to provide safe water that looks clean, and has minimal taste and smell.

How do I know my drinking water is safe to drink?

You would be notified by an authority if your water is not safe to drink.  Drinking water quality in the NWT is tested on a regular basis for various parameters.  When a problem is noted, the Environmental Health Officer has the authority to provide instructions to the community on how to deal with the problem, such as issuing a boil water advisory.

What is a boil water advisory?

A boil water advisory is announced by an authorized person, such as an Environmental Health Officer, when a treated water sample tests positive for E. Coli (which indicates fecal contamination and the possible presence of enteric pathogens, making it unsafe to drink).  A boil water advisory would be issued and corrective actions taken.

A boil water advisory my also be announced if consecutive samples from a sample site or more than 10% of samples form the distribution system in a given calendar month show the presence of total coliform bacteria.  The presence of total coliforms does not necessarily require a boil water advisory, but corrective actions would be taken.

In the event of an advisory, boil water at a rolling boil for 1 minute. 

Are our water treatment plant operators certified?

The NWT has a mandatory water treatment plant operator certification program. Operators are required to meet experience and education standards as well as passing a certification exam. Following certification, they must obtain yearly Continuing Education Credits by taking classes and attending conferences related to water.  Most operators in the NWT are certified to the level of the plant in which they work. As the certification program was voluntary until recently, there remain a few operators who have not yet achieved certification.  Certification compliance rates are published in the GNWT Report on Drinking Water.

Is there fluoride in our drinking water?

Water sources in the NWT typically have naturally occurring fluoride levels between 0.1 and 0.3 mg/L. Based on the recommendation of Health Canada’s Chief Dental Officer, the NWT Chief Public Health Officer has determined that the optimal concentration of fluoride in drinking water for dental health benefits should be 0.7 mg/L.  Canadian Drinking Water Quality Guidelines have set a maximum acceptable concentration of 1.5 mg/L  of fluoride in drinking water.