A potentially deadly strain of bacterium, called E. coli 0.157, has been found in two ponds in High River, Alta., according to water test results conducted for CBC News.

CBC hired the independent water-testing company Benchmark Labs to examine water in the flood-ravaged community south of Calgary.

Alberta flood: 100 days later

CBC News has special coverage planned for Thursday and Friday as we look back at the first 100 days since the June flood, including more on soil and water testing from High River.

We will have features on CBC Radio One, our local television news and an interactive online website.

Supper-hour host Rosa Marchitelli will anchor CBC News Calgary from High River on Friday.  

Ian Hanomansing will also broadcast part of The National from southern Alberta.

The tests also discovered that three bodies of water in the town exceeded provincial recreational guidelines for total coliform bacteria, said Benchmark Labs head Chris Bolton.

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. James Talbot released a statement to the media on Thursday reacting to the discovery of E. coli.

“The story that aired on CBC Calgary’s Sept. 26 morning show identifies a threat of E. coli in a standing water pond that is not a human drinking water source,” said Talbot.

He stressed that public health officials have tested High River’s drinking water extensively since the flood and said it remains safe.

“The fact that there still is E. coli in the floodwater around High River is not unexpected. It’s also very common to have E. coli 0157 wherever there are dogs, cats, wildlife or runoff from livestock operations,” he said.

“We continually track E.coli 0157 infections rates in this province. We did so before the flood, during the flood and after the flood, and there have been no cases in High River this year."

Benchmark Labs did not test drinking water in the town, but Bolton worries about potential contamination.

  • Listen to his full interview on the Calgary Eyeopener.

Bolton warned against High River children and pets playing in or around water.

Residents concerned

High River resident Miguel Rodriguez shares that concern.

June’s flood swamped his family’s home in the hard-hit community of Hampton Hills.

Mike Warren, Mending Homes

Mike Warren of Mending Homes took samples of water in High River for analysis at Benchmark Labs in Calgary. (Brooks DeCillia/CBC)

"I'm afraid to let my kids out and play. There's contamination there for sure,” Rodriguez told CBC News.  

Bolton is also worried about pets making humans sick. 

“If your pet's out in the water bringing the wet fur back ... then, that is of immediate concern," he said.

The water expert worries about a deadly repeat of Canada's worst-ever outbreak of E. coli contamination in Walkerton, Ont., roughly 13 years ago. Tainted water in the town killed seven people and made another 2,300 sick. 

"With 0.157, everyone knows what that is. [It] can make you seriously ill or die,” Bolton said.

He wonders why provincial authorities haven’t warned the public.

“Most people assume that it's OK because there is no public health notice,” he said.

“When it had its big flood — its 100-year flood — that came two weeks after the one we had here in Calgary, Ontario immediately posted public health notices once they found levels that were very similar to these," Bolton said.