New web tool enables public to determine water-quality trends in B.C. rivers

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      Science geeks and environmental-health advocates can now go online to find out how polluted B.C. rivers have been at different times.

      That's because there's a new Canada–B.C. surface water quality web tool, which reveals levels of contaminants when samples were taken.

      To cite one example, it's possible to determine levels of Escherichia coli in samples taken over a multiyear period on several waterways.

      This bacteria the most commonly sought indicator of contaminated drinking water, according to Health Canada.

      The data come from 42 testing stations on 31 different rivers.

      To try out the tool, the Straight searched the data at a testing location just 12 kilometres upstream from the mouth of the Fraser River.

      Between 2008 and 2020, the highest recorded level of E. coli at that location was 1,300 colony-forming units per 100 millilitres. That occurred on November 12, 2019.

      The maximum acceptable concentration in drinking water is zero colony-forming units in 100 millilitres.

      "Its presence in a water sample is considered a good indicator of recent fecal contamination," Health Canada states. "The ability to detect fecal contamination in drinking water is a necessity, as pathogenic microorganisms from human and animal feces in drinking water pose the greatest danger to public health."

      On the website, people can click a spot on a map of B.C. and then check out the results.

      Web tool can create Excel spreadsheets 

      In 1985, the Canada–B.C. Water Quality Monitoring Agreement was signed. This created a joint approach to managing  and assessing data and information.

      The water testing is being conducted with the help of First Nations communities, according to a Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy news release.

      People can click and interactive map to examine the location that interests them. The website enables users to create Excel spreadsheets containing a record of test results.

      "The new website gives people a glimpse into how we look at the data and we explain what that means," B.C. government senior water quality monitoring scientist Ayisha Yeow said in the news release. "I hope it gets people engaged and learning more about water quality so they can relate it to what they see when they’re enjoying the river.”