Bacteria in drinking water sources of a First Nation reserve in Canada
Tun, Hein Min
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Approximately 20% of the 600 First Nations reserves across Canada are under a drinking water advisory, often due to unacceptable levels of bacteria. In this study, we detected fecal bacteria at an alarmingly high frequency in drinking water sources in a fly-in First Nations community, most notably in buckets/drums of homes without running water where Escherichia coli levels ranged from 20 to 62,000 CFU/100mL. The water leaving the water treatment plant was free of E. coli and its free residual chlorine concentration (0.67 mg/L) was within the range typically observed for treated water in Canada. Water samples from taps in homes served by cisterns, and those sampled from the water truck and community standpipe, always showed unacceptable levels of E. coli (1 to 2,100 CFU/100mL) and free residual chlorine concentrations below the 0.2 mg/L required to prevent bacterial regrowth. Samples from taps in homes served by piped water had lower levels of E. coli (0 to 2 CFU/100mL). DNA- and RNA-based 16S rRNA Illumina sequencing demonstrated that piped and cisterns water distribution systems showed an abundance of viable cells of Alphaproteobacteria indicative of biofilm formation in pipes and cisterns. The alpha diversity, based on observed OTUs and three other indices, was lowest in water truck samples that supplied water to the cistern and the low free residual chlorine concentration (0.07 mg/L) and predominance of Betaproteobacteria (63% of viable cells) that were immediately detected after the truck had filled up at the water treatment plant was indicative of contamination by particulate matter. Given these findings, First Nation residents living without running water and relying on inadequate water distribution systems are at higher risk of contracting water-born illnesses. We urge all governments in Canada to expand their investments in supporting and sustaining water as a human right in Canada’s First Nations communities.