Where can I get the water quality of our lake tested?

Testing water quality

I am concerned about the water quality of our lake. Are there test results for lakes in Canada? If not, where can I get our lake water tested?
—Water Worrier

Environment Canada monitors water quality on waters that straddle provincial or international borders, plus a few other lakes of “national interest” (Lake Winnipeg, for example). For their research, see ec.gc.ca/eaudouce-freshwater. Within provinces, provincial governments keep tabs on water quality; in Ontario, the Ministry of the Environment does this; in Alberta, it’s Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, and so on. Or, check with an environmental authority in your area.

To have the water analyzed yourself, take a sample to a municipal health lab or a private lab. The key test is for E. coli, which indicates runoff from septic beds, municipal water systems, or animal use.

But before you break out the specimen bottle, you should know that a single sample from an open water source is “not always the best measure,” says Chris Sullivan, a senior project specialist with the environmental services laboratory of SGS Canada. Your sample depends on what happens to float by when you collect the water. “Literally, if you put two bottles side by side, you could get two different water samples.” A more accurate analysis involves testing several samples, from different spots on the lake, at different times of the year. Some lake associations do this already; if yours doesn’t, consider getting the project going. The information is probably useful for anyone who uses the water.