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Clean bill for Long Lake water
Environmental Health Officer says beach is very healthy

Candace Thomson
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The results of water testing at Long Lake two weeks ago will please beachgoers at Fred Henne Park.

NNSL photo/graphic

Environmental Health Officer Jeremy Roberts demonstrates how the officers test the water at Long Lake. The samples are then tested for the amount of E. coli bacteria per 100 millilitres sample of water. - Candace Thomson/NNSL photo

"The samples from Long Lake came back very good," said Jeremy Roberts, the environmental health officer who tested the water.

He said the highest level of general E. coli bacteria per 100 millilitres sample of water from the lake was three.

The bacteria they find isn't the same type of E. coli that makes people sick, but it acts as an indicator of any greater problems in the lake.

In order to be concerned, there would need to be a count of 200 bacteria per sample, said Roberts.

"The history of lakes all around Yellowknife has been good. The tests always come back with good results so we haven't been continuing the (water testing) program," said Roberts. "Anyone who is operating a beach can ask us to do the sampling."

Once a request comes in, the health officers test the beach at a cost of $200, the standard price for any sized beach. Requests are rare, according to Roberts, who said his office might get a request every two years.

Roberts then tests water from five different points along the beach to get a good scope of the bacterial conditions.

In the event the health officers find a high level of contamination on the beach, Roberts said they would post signs warning the public.

"If we had high levels, we'd just let people know and then keep testing until the levels (of bacteria) go down," he said. "Most people take that advice, but we can't control someone swimming in the water even if they're warned not to - it's not illegal to swim in water that's been posted."

Currently, there are no lakes near Yellowknife that the public should worry about. Roberts said NWT lakes are generally healthier than those in the south.

"They have an enormous number of swimmers, warmer water which helps bacteria grow, a longer summer season and lots of birds and ducks," he said.

Birds, high levels of swimmers and wind picking up the mud at the bottom of the lake all contribute to contaminated water. Even though NWT lakes are relatively safe from all of those risk factors, Roberts said swimmers still need to be careful.

"Even if the samples come back good in terms of swimming, from a drinking standpoint it could still make you sick," he said. "In any water source that's out in nature and hasn't been treated, you can never guarantee what's in the water, so there could be parasites or other organisms."

In order for untreated water to be safe for drinking, it needs to either be boiled or chemically treated with chlorine or iodine, according to Health Canada's Drinking Water Guidelines. Boiling gets rid of bacteria, viruses and protozoa - but not chemicals that might be in the water.

The guidelines advise that when chemically treating water, use two different containers and pass the newly treated water through a filter to remove protozoa that the chemicals might not remove.

Filtering alone doesn't guarantee the safety of untreated water.

Roberts said the best way to stay healthy while swimming is to limit the amount of water swallowed.

"If you're an adult swimming or have children swimming, just try not to swallow it because any type of gastro illness you'd get would be from that," he said.

While the results are not posted on the Health and Social Services website as restaurant inspections are, Roberts said they are available for any member of the public who'd like the information.

Interested people can call the population health office and ask when a lake was inspected and what the results were.

Roberts is one of four health officers working in Yellowknife. He has been in the field for 10 years, starting in Sudbury, Ont., after completing his degree at Ryerson University in Toronto before moving to Yellowknife two years ago.

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