Water has to be one of my favorite things. I love to drink it, bathe in in, swim in it, and just look at it. I am lucky to live at the headwaters of the Rocky Mountains where the water in the rivers, lakes and ground supply is pure and drinkable. I have become aware of the issue of water quality simply because I have enjoyed this pristine resource, and realize it is not this way in many other places. What can you do to make sure the water you drink and use is of the highest quality ?
Make sure you know where your water comes from. It can come from a pubic water system, a well, or bottled water. Public water systems in the States are highly regulated and reliable systems. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is responsible for regulating these. Most people in the US (86%) receive their water from a public water system.
Private well systems that draw groundwater can either serve one household or a group of households. Fourteen percent of households in the US use private wells. EPA regulations DO NOT apply to privately owned wells or other private water systems such as rainwater collecting systems. Therefore, private well owners are responsible for making sure their water is safe to drink.
What do private well owners have to be concerned about ? The first point is to hire a reputable ( licensed and insured) contractor to drill a well. Water testing can be done at that time. Obvious concerns have to do with keeping wells an appropriate distance from septic drain fields. Of the top 7 causes of well contamination, the first 6 are infectious organisms. Beyond that are chemicals like arsenic, gasoline and nitrates, which comes from fertilizers. The US EPA recommends that all water be tested for quality once every three years. This analysis should include fluoride, since naturally occurring fluoride levels can be more or less than recommended values for children in the home. Your local Health Department can advise you about getting your water tested.
Bottled water would seem to be an appropriate substitute for questionable drinking water. However, there have been many cases of contaminated bottled water. Read the label to see how a particular brand is treated. If you are immunocompromised, be aware you are looking for treatments such as reverse osmosis, distillation and 1 micron filtration. The FDA (food and drug administration) regulates the production of bottled water. Unless your home water supply is questionable, there is little need to buy bottled water. You can save packaging, and fill up your own reusable water bottle from home.
Safe water use during camping or travel is a special case by case issue. Water use concerns while camping can be addressed with a little research through the Park Service or Forest Service in the area where you plan to be. Travel concerns outside the US can be addressed through the US State Department website where you can find country specific information. The WHO (World Health Organization) is also a great resource.
Perhaps the greatest purpose this post can serve is that of raising water awareness. Clean water is one of our most precious resources. Worldwide, clean water is an endangered species. Become aware of water issues, and become active for the cause of clean water in your community.