How many times do you consume water each day? You might drink a full glass with lunch. What might use water to wash the vegetables that you put into your child’s lunchbox? Or, you may fill a pot with water to cook pasta for the family’s dinner.
But what if that water just “looks” clean? If it were contaminated, how would you know?
Every year an annual drinking water quality report is distributed detailing the conditions of the water you use to clean your vegetables and bathe your children.
Have you ever seen it? Do you know where your water comes originates?
Water makes it to our homes and businesses from two sources: surface water and groundwater. As water travels on top of the ground or through the ground, this finite resource can pick up unwanted substances.
We often take for granted that water will always come out of our kitchen faucet and that it will be clean. Water is essential for manufacturing, agriculture, mining, construction, and recreation. But most importantly, water is needed to keep each of us alive and healthy.
So, what should you know?
Knowing how we get our water helps us learn the importance of conservation.
“The water which is available for our use today is the same amount of water that has always been available and that ever will be available. Yet, the amount of water used by people as part of their everyday activities has risen dramatically.” – EPA
Surface water is what accumulates in rivers, streams, and lakes. Texas has 23 major river basins supplying surface water to more than 29 million people.
About 70% of the freshwater used in the United States in 2015 came from surface water sources, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Since it travels over the ground, surface water can accumulate a great deal of contamination and must be cleaned or “treated” before it is made potable or safe to drink. In Texas though, about 75% of all drinking water comes from groundwater, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Groundwater is accessed at a natural spring or pumped out of the ground from an aquifer via a well. Groundwater requires little to no treatment before it can be safely consumed.
Many water supply systems in the state blend surface and groundwater, treating it before making it available to residents.
You can take an active role in protecting your community’s drinking water sources by understanding where it comes from, conserving, and learning to prevent contamination.
The EPA requires annual drinking water quality reports be delivered to customers. The Consumer Confidence Report are sent by water suppliers each year by July 1. The reports most often come with your monthly bill from your water provider. Or, they may provide online information available annually on a website.
The report includes a summary of the risk of contamination of the local drinking water source, the highest level of contaminant that is allowed in drinking water, the regulated contaminant found, educational information, and more. The report also includes potential health effects from consuming contaminated water and additional safeguards against water-related illnesses as well as contaminant levels locally compared to national standards.
Some contaminants occur naturally, such as arsenic, while others come from environmental contamination, like sewage discharge, industrial waste, or farming runoff, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of course, all drinking water may contain some contaminants. The presence of contaminants does not necessarily indicate the water poses a health risk.
The EPA does not regulate private wells, so there is no requirement for a Consumer Confidence Report.
The reports are often tailored to the local water system, so they might not all look alike. Not sure who issues your local Consumer Confidence Report? Click here.
No, you don’t have to be a scientist to digest these reports. Take the city of Waco’s latest report. The report shows the highest level detected of nitrate collected, that the amount is not a violation, and that the likely source of contamination is from runoff from fertilizer use, leaching from septic tanks, or erosion of natural deposits.
These reports include definitions and abbreviations for further understanding.
Federal and state laws help ensure the water flowing from the tap is protected from harmful contaminants. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1948 and stated, among other things, that discharge of pollutants into our waterways is prohibited.
Passed by Congress in 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act requires many actions to protect drinking water and its sources—rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and groundwater wells. Through that act, the EPA sets national health-based standards for drinking water to protect against naturally occurring and human-made contaminants.
Once that water is collected, from a river, reservoir, or underground, for example, it is treated before being pumped and piped to our homes. Every drop of water matters as we work to ensure there is enough drinking water for all Texans. Every season demands conservation efforts.
You have the opportunity to generate some community pride and help protect your neighbors and loved ones by understanding and being aware of the process.
Whether you use a rain barrel at your home or only use the recommended amount of fertilizer in your yard to prevent unnecessary runoff, actions add up when it comes to protection.
The quality of our water depends on the choices we make.