When you turn on the tap, you expect clean, safe water to use for drinking, cooking, and cleaning. Have you ever wondered though, where does your water come from, and is it really safe? And if it is supposedly safe, what assurances do you have?
The truth of the matter is that the safety of your drinking water is ultimately up to you. While there are laws in place to protect waterways, and mandatory standards for drinking water quality, it’s your responsibility to find out if those standards are being met.
Find out where your water comes from
Drinking water can come from a variety of sources, including rivers, lakes, streams, ponds,
and reservoirs. Some sources, like the Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains of the United States, have filled slowly over the course of thousands of years, and can take just as long to recharge.
Collectively, all these sources of water belong to a watershed. A watershed is an area of land that drains to a common point, such as a stream, lake, estuary, wetland, aquifer, or ocean. Watersheds are usually divided by hills and ridges.
Watersheds are replenished by rainwater. When water runs over the land into lakes, rivers, and streams, the water is called surface water. When water permeates through soil, sand, and stone into the water table, it is called groundwater.
Drinking water can come directly from surface water such as lakes and rivers, or it can come from groundwater aquifers. You can find out what watershed you belong to by following this resource from the EPA.
Find out who supplies your water, and what tests they perform
If your water is from a municipal source, you can find out who supplies your water and more info about your watershed from this EPA resource.
According to the American Water Works Association, you should ask your water supplier the following questions:
- What is the source of the drinking water supply? (river, lake, aquifer, etc.)
- How are state standards different from those at the federal level? More comprehensive?
- Does the utility monitor for unregulated contaminants, particularly those likely to be found in the area?
- How is the water treated?
- What is the utility track record for complying with Maximum Contaminant Levels and all monitoring and reporting requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)?
Follow up with your state drinking water agency to determine if your water supplier is in compliance. Go over the same list of questions. According to a 2001 EPA report, 1 out of 4 community water systems did not conduct testing or report results for all the monitoring required to verify the safety of their drinking water.
If you have well water, still contact your state drinking water agency for more information. Also, follow this resource to find out how to get your drinking water tested.
Take ownership of your waterways
The squeaky wheel gets the grease. If no one takes ownership and responsibility for your waterway, then your water is essentially unprotected. There are many ways that you can take responsibility for your water. Find out what citizen based groups are working to protect your watershed. Volunteer with a group, lend your voice to the cause of clean water. Become educated, learn about the issues concerning your waterways.
Join organizations like American Rivers that actively work to protect waterways.
Come up with alternative sources of water in case of contamination
As in the case of the Gold King Mine accident, even EPA attempts at remediation can backfire in a tragic and unexpected way. In case your waterway becomes contaminated, find alternative sources of water, whether it’s delivered by truck or treated by your own filtration system.
If by truck, investigate local distributors and establish a working relationship before accidents strike. If considering a filtration system, purchase the right system for the right job, whether it’s agricultural, commercial, industrial, or residential. Also ensure the filtration system removes all potential contaminates you’re likely to encounter in your watershed.
Every residence should have a personal water filtration system for emergency use. The Smyth/Cid Water Filtration system, for example, is an independent, gravity fed system that filters microorganisms, heavy metals, VOC’s, pharmaceuticals, etc… Such filtration systems can be used on a daily basis as a preemptive measure to ensure clean drinking water.
Surf Your Watershed, EPA: http://cfpub.epa.gov/surf/locate/index.cfm
Local Drinking Water Information, EPA: http://water.epa.gov/drink/local/
American Waterworks Association: http://www.drinktap.org/
Action Alerts, American Rivers: http://www.americanrivers.org/take-action/
2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Gold_King_Mine_waste_water_spill