Is Greater Victoria’s water safe to drink?

  • Yes, Greater Victoria’s drinking water is safe to drink.
  • The drinking water meets all provincial and federal health-based regulations.
  • Consumers in Greater Victoria from Sooke to the tip of the Saanich Peninsula receive high quality drinking water.

Is our tap water safe for pets?

  • The tap water is safe for all pets except fish.
  • Fish or other animals (reptiles, amphibians) that live in water must have the chloramines removed from the water before adding it to fish bowls and aquariums. This is due to the fact that they take water directly into their bloodstream through their gills. Chloramines can be detrimental to their health.
  • Consult your local pet store for the appropriate neutralizing chemical (ensure that the product will neutralize chloramines).

Who is responsible for drinking water quality and drinking water infrastructure?

  • CRD Integrated Water Services (IWS) operates the source, treatment, and transmission system and supplies bulk drinking water to the municipalities of Sidney, North Saanich, Central Saanich, Saanich, Oak Bay, Victoria and Esquimalt.
  • The above listed municipalities own and operate their own distribution systems, supply retail drinking water to their customers and are responsible for maintaining and operating the drinking water infrastructure within their jurisdictions.
  • CRD IWS operates the distribution system and supplies drinking water to the Westshore (Colwood, Langford, Metchosin, View Royal) as well as Sooke and parts of East Sooke. The CRD IWS also owns and operates a number of community drinking water systems in the Juan de Fuca Electoral Area, on Salt Spring Island and on the Southern Gulf Islands.

Who samples our drinking water?

  • Staff from the CRD Water Quality Program sample source water reservoirs and streams in the Water Supply Area along with the drinking water throughout all municipalities.
  • In the course of sampling this large drinking water system, a Water Sampling Technician can travel up to 150 km/day.

Who tests our drinking water?

  • Testing is conducted at the CRD’s provincially certified Water Quality Laboratory.  Water is tested each day for bacteria, turbidity (cloudiness), taste, odour and chlorine.
  • Other tests are conducted weekly, monthly, quarterly, or semi-annually. A number of these infrequent analyses are undertaken by accredited commercial labs across Canada.
  • In total, about 35,000 laboratory tests are conducted each year.
  • Staff of the CRD Aquatic Ecology Laboratory predominantly monitor algae and other microscopic organisms that live in the source water (Greater Victoria’s primary source: Sooke Lake Reservoir).

Where does our drinking water come from?

  • Greater Victoria’s drinking water comes from Sooke Lake Reservoir in the Sooke Hills about 30km northwest of the City of Victoria.
  • Sooke Lake Reservoir is surrounded by a large forested watershed that is owned and protected by the CRD.
  • It is one of the most stable drinking water sources in the Pacific Northwest.
  • At full storage capacity, Sooke Reservoir holds 20.4 billion litres of water – enough to fill 31 million Olympic-sized pools!

How is our drinking water protected?

CRD Integrated Water Services uses a multiple barrier approach to prevent contamination of Greater Victoria’s drinking water.

The barriers listed below protect and maintain the high quality of our drinking water:

  • Watershed lands are 98% owned by the CRD
  • Extensive watershed protection programs
  • No public access, no recreation
  • No farming, pesticides, logging or mining
  • Water system design meeting industry standards
  • Multi-step water disinfection
  • Well trained staff, certified operators
  • Good infrastructure maintenance
  • Timely infrastructure replacement
  • Cross Connection Control Program
  • Certified Water Quality Laboratory
  • Extensive water quality monitoring

How is our drinking water treated?

Step 1: UV Disinfection

Ultraviolet (UV) disinfection is the first step of the disinfection process. UV kills bacteria and parasites such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium.

Step 2: Add Chlorine

Chlorine is added as the second step in the disinfection process. The low dose (1.5 - 2.5 mg/L) of chlorine kills viruses and provides further protection against bacteria.

Step 3:  Add Ammonia

Ammonia is added as the final step in the disinfection process. The tiny quantity of ammonia combines with chlorine to produce chloramines. Chloramine is a long lasting disinfectant which protects the water from microbial contamination as it travels through the distribution system pipelines.

Why do we need to disinfect our drinking water?

  • Sooke Reservoir is a high quality source of drinking water but it can still contain low levels of pathogens including bacteria, viruses or parasites that are naturally present in the ecosystem of the watershed.
  • Some of these organisms can be harmful to human health and therefore, the water must be disinfected before it can be used by the public.

Is the water treated with chlorine and ammonia? What about the safety of chloramines?

  • Yes, the water in Greater Victoria is treated with chlorine and ammonia, which combine to form chloramine.
  • Chloramine is a much more stable compound and doesn’t dissipate like free chlorine.
  • Chloramines have no harmful effect on the human body in the concentrations administered to the drinking water (< 3.0 mg/L).
  • Chloramination produces fewer disinfection by-products which may be potential human carcinogens if present in high concentrations. Free chlorine, in reaction with naturally present organic compounds in the water, may produce trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids which are regulated under Health Canada as disinfection by-products.

Is drinking water in the CRD fluoridated?

  • No, the CRD does not fluoridate the drinking water.
  • Very low levels of fluoride are naturally present in the water.
  • The natural fluoride comes from the geological formations in the Sooke Lake Reservoir watershed.
  • Customers should consult with their dental health provider to discuss suitable fluoride supplements.

Where can I find information regarding laboratory analyses completed for the drinking water (metals, hardness, pH, bacteriological, etc.)?

On the CRD website, you will find links for:

  • Greater Victoria Water Quality Reports and Data Summaries.
  • Greater Victoria Water Quality Annual Reports.
  • Water Quality Reports and Data for the Small Water Systems (Gulf Islands, Port Renfrew, Wilderness Mountain).

Do we have hard water or soft water?

  • We have very soft water with a median value of 17.4 mg/L for Hardness measured as CaC03 (Calcium Carbonate).
  • Hardness is a measure of mineral concentration.

What is the pH of our drinking water?

  • We have drinking water with a neutral pH.
  • The treated water leaving the plant has a pH of approximately 7.3 – 7.8. In some far extremities of the water system, the pH may decrease to slightly below 7.0.

Can I have the tap water tested at my home?

  • The CRD monitors the drinking water quality throughout the municipal distribution systems.
  • The CRD Laboratory only processes these internal samples for certain parameters and is not set up to accept samples from the public.
  • Members of the public can get their tap water tested through any commercial lab.
  • Health Canada does suggest using only labs accredited for drinking water analyses.
  • There are some local accredited commercial labs in the area that can do the analysis for you.
  • These labs will typically provide you with appropriate bottles and sampling instructions for the analysis requested. 

Interpretation of lab results

There are two types of limits in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality which are set by Health Canada:

  • A Maximum Allowable Concentration (MAC) is a guideline intended to protect human health.
  • An Aesthetic Objective (AO) poses no health related risks.  For compounds that exceed the AO, you can expect to see aesthetically displeasing qualities (for instance, taste / smell / colour) in water.
  • If you have any further questions or concerns and would like to go over your results with a Water Quality staff member you can contact 250.474.9643.

What about well water testing?

  • Water can be tested at most commercial labs. Search your local directory to find one nearest you.
  • A potability package would include a number of tests to characterize water quality.
  • Private groundwater wells fall under the jurisdiction of Island Health.
  • For more information please visit Island Health’s website on Drinking Water.
  • Island Health has Health Officers that are assigned to different delivery areas. You will be able to find the contact for your area on Island Health’s website.
  • Drinking water in BC must meet the requirements of the BC Drinking Water Protection Act (DWPA) and conform to Health Canada’s Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.

I have an old house and I am concerned about lead. Where can I take a water sample for testing?

  • In general, studies on Greater Victoria’s drinking water have shown that lead is not a typical concern in drinking water from residential taps. The vast majority of homes tested, regardless of age, have shown very low lead concentrations. That is despite that many older homes have copper pipes that may have been soldered with lead containing solder from the pre-1990 era.
  • Very few old homes may have lead plumbing pipes or lead service lines.  Old brass fixtures and faucets can also be lead sources. Some homes with such lead sources may experience lead concentrations in exceedance of the health limit.
  • The risk from drinking water containing lead over the Maximum Allowable Concentration (MAC) of 0.005 mg/L comes from chronic exposure.
  • More information can be found in the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality which specifies the levels below which the water remains safe to drink.
  • Health Canada has a couple documents that will help address the lead in your home if it’s over the guideline MAC.
  • There are some local laboratories that can perform metal analyses on your tap water. Consult your local directories to find suitable locations nearest you.

What filter system will remove lead from my drinking water?

  • Home filtration systems are very effective and can be as simple as an activated carbon filter such as a Brita or as complicated as a Reverse Osmosis or other system.
  • Activated carbon is an effective compound for the capture and removal of metals from water.
  • It is important residents follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for replacing or cleaning filters because filters accumulate metals and even higher concentrations can break through from dirty filters.
  • It would be best to contact a water filtration specialist.

I notice a difference in the taste and odour of the water lately. Have there been any changes to our drinking water treatment?

The CRD is committed to maintaining stable water quality conditions. Typically, only slight operational adjustments to the water treatment processes are needed to address seasonal changes to raw water conditions. These slight adjustments are normally unnoticeable to the public. If more drastic adjustments are required, CRD would notify the public with a Water Quality Advisory.

Fall/Winter: Chlorine taste and/or odour may be stronger in the fall as the municipalities are conducting their winter flushing programs.  After flushing there is less organic material in the pipes consuming chlorine which may result in a stronger taste and/or odour. Water is monitored daily to ensure the water remains safe (chlorine residuals and bacteriological testing).

First warm weather in spring or during hot weather in summer: A stronger chlorine taste and/or odour may be related to watering schedules and/or irrigation by farms (if there are any) in your area. This increased demand means water is moving more quickly through the mains and has less time to sit. As a result, residents may notice the chlorine odour and/or taste more prominently.

July-September: During the peak of the summer months the drinking water temperature often exceeds 15ºC. With these warmer water temperatures it is easier to detect various flavours of drinking water. Therefore consumers may notice more prominently the taste of aquatic water ingredients or chlorine odours.

If the problem continues, you should follow up with your water supplier (municipality or CRD, depending on where you live).

My water smells bad. Is it safe?

  • Water naturally varies in taste and odour at different times of the year.
  • Taste and odour problems can also come from new or old pipes, plumbing fixtures, changes in source water or if water sits unused in pipes for long periods of time.
  • Residents may notice changes in the taste and/or odour of their drinking water during the first warm weather in the spring or during hot weather in the summer. This change may be due to the presence of algae (microscopic green plants) that are growing in Sooke Lake Reservoir.  Most algae species are naturally occurring, harmless plants that you can safely drink, cook, or bathe with. Sometimes algae can cause a “fishy” or “grassy” taste and/or odour.  If there was an unusually strong and widespread taste and odour concern, the CRD would make a public announcement.

Why is my water brown in colour? Is there something in the water supply that could be causing this?

  • The water in Greater Victoria is not filtered prior to disinfection so natural organic material is present and a slight green, yellow or brown colour may be noticed at different times of the year. The colour comes from the decomposing leaf matter and vegetation in the watershed. There will be noticeable colour changes at various times of the year depending on rain/weather events recharging creeks that feed the lake, bringing the colour compounds from the watershed into the water.
  • If the water appears to be darker than normal in colour it is more than likely caused by construction work being done in your area.
  • Organic matter can accumulate in the distribution pipes and for that reason each municipality conducts an annual flushing program. This is usually performed in the winter months largely because of spring/summer water restrictions. The flushing program removes sediments that may be present in pipes. During this process, organic matter may be disturbed for a short time. To remove the coloured water from your home, turn on the bathtub tap and allow it to run a few minutes until the colour returns to normal.
  • Other disturbances that may cause brown water:
    • opening or closing a water-main valve
    • opening a fire hydrant
    • nearby water infrastructure construction
    • if the water inside the pipe changes either speed, direction or both
    • a water-main break
  • You will not see the same issue in hot water because that water has had time to settle in the hot water tank.
  • Discoloured water coming only from the hot water tap is an indication of a problem with the hot water tank.

My water looks milky? Is it still safe to drink?

  • The water travels under pressure.
  • Occasionally, during maintenance work, air may become trapped inside these pipes and when the pipe is returned to service, the water pressure causes the air to dissolve into the water.
  • When the water comes out of the tap, it is no longer under pressure and the air that was dissolved in the water comes out of solution forming very tiny bubbles.  This causes the water to look milky.
  • When poured into a glass, the milky water will start to clear from the bottom up. Usually this milky appearance is only temporary and the water will soon return to normal. 
  • The water is still safe to drink.

Why do I have blue or blue-green staining on my fixtures?

  • Blue-green staining is classic of water that has elevated copper concentrations.
  • CRD water is very low in metals, so the cause of the staining is metals leaching from copper pipes.
  • Copper pipes are used in buildings, not in the water distribution system (i.e. not the pipes in the ground).
  • Copper staining is mostly seen in the bathroom because the fixtures are white and usually in the shower/tub because hot water is more aggressive and leaches more metals from pipes than cold water.
  • Health Canada has an Aesthetic Objective and a health limit for copper in drinking water.  So far, all water samples ever taken from residential taps in Greater Victoria were well below the health limit and the Aesthetic Objective.
  • Often copper leaching occurs on infrequently used taps or taps that drain plumbing sections with a high water age. If you experience this, try running these taps more frequently to prevent stale water sitting in your pipes. There are also filters that you can install in your shower on the neck before the showerhead to intercept the copper (and other metals) before the water leaves the showerhead. We recommend you speak with a water filtration supplier for further information.

What is this pink slime growing in my toliet and shower?

  • Seratia marcesescens. This bacterium is airborne and is not in the drinking water. It thrives in moist environments that have suitable food sources for them. They metabolize (eat) phosphates which are common in detergents and soaps.
  • The bacterium is found in soil, dust and animal feces (humans/pets).
  • It is often noticed in the summer because people tend to leave their windows open which allows dust to enter the home. It can also happen when dust-producing house renovations occur.
  • They do not pose a human health risk.

White chips and flakes are clogging the screen on my tap. What causes this?

  • According to the plumbing industry, some residential hot water tanks may have a defective, white, plastic 'dip tube' inside the tank.
  • Dip tubes are used to deliver the incoming cold water directly to the bottom of the hot water tank. This helps prevent the cold, denser water from mixing with the hot water which is lighter and remains in the upper portion of the unit.
  • When a dip tube breaks down inside the hot water tank, small plastic chips or flakes (pieces of the dip tube) may enter the household piping, get caught in the aerator screen at the tap and block the flow of water. Depending upon the manufacturer, some of the dip tube particles float, some sink and some may appear greenish or tan coloured.
  • Dip tubes that have broken off inside the hot water tank allow the cold water to mix with the hot water. Thus, it will seem like the hot water does not last as long.
  • While the chips do not pose a health risk, they clog household faucets and appliances and diminish the heater efficiency and effectiveness. Therefore this issue should be addressed. If you experience this problem, contact a plumber for information on dip tube replacement.

Are there asbestos-cement (AC) pipes in the CRD drinking water infrastructure? Are there any health risks associated with drinking water supply via AC pipes?

  • AC pipes were commonly used in the drinking water industry between the 1940’s and 1970’s. Some AC pipes do remain in our distribution system and many other distribution systems across Canada. The CRD has an ongoing AC pipe replacement program in place. These pipes are being replaced due to their age and condition, not due to any health concerns.
  • The World Health Organization and Health Canada have determined there is no convincing evidence that asbestos ingested through drinking water has any harmful health effects.
  • Health Canada has not established drinking water guidelines for asbestos. For this reason, the CRD does not regularly test for asbestos in drinking water. 
  • The US EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) guidelines state the maximum allowable concentration of asbestos fibres longer than 10 μm is 7 million fibres per litre (MFL)
  • In May 2023, four water samples were analyzed for asbestos and all were less than 0.2 MFL.

Are there micro plastics in our CRD supplied water?

  • The CRD does not test for micro-plastics in the CRD raw drinking water supply because they are very unlikely to be present.
  • Sooke Lake Reservoir is in a protected watershed and there is no access for the public, and no agricultural or industrial activities are permitted in the watershed.
  • There are no sources of micro-plastics in our water supply area, nor have there been since plastic materials have become an everyday product.
  • CRD staff and consultants/contractors are held to a very high standard with respect to allowable activities, leaving no debris behind (solids and liquids).

What are PFAS? Are there PFAS in the drinking water supply?

  • Per - and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are human made substances that are found in a variety of products. PFAs, also referred to as “forever chemicals”, break down very slowly over time and can pose a risk to human health.
  • For this reason, they are a concern for many drinking water utilities in North America and worldwide. Health Canada and international drinking water regulators are in the process of updating guidelines to reflect new science on health concerns associated with these compounds.
  • Sooke Lake Reservoir is well protected from many sources of PFAs. The CRD has been testing the raw water entering the Goldstream Water Treatment Plant since 2020 for certain PFAS compounds. To date all test results were non-detect including recent tests completed with a detection limit of 2ng/L (parts per trillion).