What’s in your drinking water?

Red Lake and Ear Falls release 2014 Drinking Water System Reports


Every year since Ontario’s Safe Drinking Water Act became law in 2002, the owners of municipal Drinking Water Systems must prepare an annual report that outlines the operation of their systems as well as the quality of the water and make those reports available to the public.

At recent council meetings, both Northern Waterworks Inc. (NWI), the operator of the Red Lake, Madsen, and Balmertown-Cochenour-McKenize Island systems, as well as the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA), the operator of the Ear Falls system, both had their 2014 Drinking Water System Reports passed through council.

This week The Northern Sun News touches on some of the highlights of those reports as well as the work that both operators are doing to improve the quality of drinking water in the area.

Municipality of Red Lake

While the Balmertown-Cochenour-McKenzie Island DWS and the Madsen DWS have both graduated to reduced lead sampling, the Red Lake DWS continues to follow a standard lead sampling schedule.

“Starting in 2008, all municipal drinking-water systems in Ontario were required to conduct lead sampling (with the number of samples scaled to the population served),” explains NWI Compliance Coordinator Nicholas Kyle. “In Red Lake, this meant collecting samples from 22 residences and four hydrants on a semi-annual basis. Once a few sample rounds were completed, the results determined whether a given system would move to reduced sampling or was required to develop a Corrosion Control Plan…In Red Lake’s case, the system was required to develop a Plan because in two of three consecutive periods more than 10 per cent of all samples from household plumbing exceeded the Standard.”

Kyle points out, however, that all lead exceedances in the Red Lake system are attributable to household plumbing like lead solder fittings and fixtures, adding that PVC pipe is known to sometimes give lead hits too since lead is used in the making of the pipe.

“We used to do monthly metal scans too and it’s never been found in source water, it’s never been found in treated water, and it’s not found in the distribution system. It’s found in household plumbing. So the problem of lead—at least in the Red Lake context and in most contexts in Ontario—is from the service line.”

“We do a screen for all the metals and they’re generally all below detection. They’re not just below the standard, you can’t detect their presence at all. We still have clean, northern water here,” adds NWI Compliance Coordinator Jaclyn Jenner.

For its Corrosion Control Plan, NWI increased the PH to help form a thin, insoluble scale inside the pipes and prevent lead from being released. Over the last six rounds of testing, there hasn’t been a single lead exceedance, says Kyle.

One issue that NWI has been focusing on now is trying to reduce the concentration of trihalomethanes (THMs), which Kyle says are directly linked to dealing with lead.

THMs form when chlorine reacts with organic matter in the source water and since Red Lake’s water is drawn from the lake, it naturally contains more organic matter.

The provincial standard for the maximum acceptable concentration for THMs in drinking water is 100 ug/L based on an annual average. In the Red Lake system, the THM average values for 2014 were 101.8 ug/L (distribution location 1), 95.5 ug/L (distribution location 2), and 72.8 ug/L (treated).

Health Canada says that chloroform (the THM toxicity compound that most commonly shows up in the Red Lake drinking water) “is considered to be a possible carcinogen in humans, based on limited evidence in experimental animals, and inadequate evidence in humans.” (for more details about THMs, visit

But the chlorine that contributes to the formation of THMs is necessary to achieve disinfection.

“The universal constant is that you can’t sacrifice disinfection to control THMs,” explains Kyle. “We know from human history in our societies that these acute pathogens are far more dangerous. The risks associated with not disinfecting water properly are much greater than the risks associated with THMs.”

NWI has tested a number of methods to minimize the concentration of THMs, but like many other communities across Ontario, still struggles with the issue.

Red Lake Chief Administration Officer Mark Vermette confirmed that a $15,000 budget to test Granular Activated Carbon—a new filtration material that could contribute to minimizing the concentration of THMs—is part of the proposed municipal budget, which will go to council on April 20.

The complete DWS reports for all three systems within the Municipality of Red Lake are available at,, or by contacting the municipal office.

Township of Ear Falls

The Ear Falls Drinking Water System (DWS) report shows that lead was the only inorganic exceedance in 2014.

At Ear Falls’ March 19 council meeting, when the OCWA presented its 2014 DWS report, Ear Falls Councillor Rob Eady expressed concern about the exceedances of lead in 2014 and in previous years and asked the two OCWA representatives present what the OCWA has done to help mitigate the problem.

“We as a council are ultimately responsible for the health and wellbeing of the community and if we rely on your advice as a professional water treatment plant, apparently that covers our behind. I’m asking the question just to give me some peace of mind and to do my due diligence,” said Eady.

The OCWA responded by saying that while samples from private residences exceeded the provincial standard in 2014 and in previous years, there were no exceedances of lead in samples taken within the Ear Falls distribution system, therefore it is the responsibility of the homeowners themselves to take the action they feel is appropriate.

“Individual residents and businesses identified to have elevated levels of lead are notified of test results, and are provided with information regarding measures that they can take to address elevated lead. This includes replacement of personal plumbing containing lead solder, lead fitting or in-line devices containing lead,” said OCWA reprsentatives, in an e-mail.

The OWCA told The Northern Sun News that it developed a Corrosion Control Plan in 2010, which has since been implemented.

THM values are also elevated in Ear Falls. The six tests performed in 2014 showed values of between 95.1 and 151 (with 100 ug/L being the provincial standard).

The OCWA says that minimizing THMs is part of its everyday responsibility, but similar to NWI, says that there is a “delicate balance in maintaining the appropriate dosage of chlorine in the system for disinfection purposes, while keeping the presence of THMs to a minimum.”

The complete DWS report for the Township of Ear Falls is available through the town office.

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