We all know our water comes out of the kitchen faucet, but is tap water safe to drink? After all, it has a long journey before it reaches homes for human consumption. It seems like the most cost-effective, easiest source of water. However, it’s important to be aware of how contamination might affect your tap water quality. While there are specific water treatment protocols municipalities must follow, you need to know where your water is sourced.
Water treatments vary per area depending on where the water originates from and the quality of water that is captured. For example, Sioux Falls, South Dakota recently earned a clean water score of 110, one of the highest in the U.S., based on data that showed evidence of the lowest potential for water pollution. Comparably, one of the worst clean water cities is Modesto, CA with a water score of 47 due to the number of contaminants found in the water.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set regulations for the amounts of certain contaminants in water provided by public water systems. These standards are required under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). There are several steps to the process before water is stored and deemed acceptable to drink from the faucet.
Regardless of treatments, water scores, and regulations, consumers simply want a low level of contaminants and water that tastes good. If you’re wondering if your tap water is safe to drink, consider where it comes from, how it’s treated, and how it makes its way to your home.
Where Does Tap Water Come From?
According to the EPA, the majority of public water systems (91%) are supplied by groundwater, while 68% of the U.S. have community water systems that use surface water. Typically speaking, well-populated cities use surface water and more rural areas rely on water from the ground. Keep in mind, not all community water is treated for human consumption. Some of it is used for recreational, agricultural, and industrial activities alone. It’s important to understand the different types of drinking water and where it comes from to evaluate whether your tap water is safe to drink.
It turns out two-thirds of our tap water comes from rivers and streams. This is what we call surface water. This type of water is collected from precipitation like rain and snow. It can also come from groundwater deposits that reach the surface. Some additional examples of surface water include lakes, wetlands, and oceans. Saltwater from the ocean, however, is not potable water without special processing.
Surface water is the most common source for public water utilities. The supplier only needs to draw the water from the source before it analyzes, treats, and pumps it to the consumer. The amount of surface water collected depends on the region, climate, and other geographic factors. There are 21 water resource regions based on surface topography and drainage areas of major rivers. In 2017, the annual runoff in the nation’s streams and rivers was higher than the average of annual runoff for the years 1930-2017. Each area has its own water supply systems to account for how surface water is captured.
For example, California uses dam construction as a centerpiece for its water supply system, in addition to the California Aqueduct and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. There are 17 reservoirs throughout the state including Lake Oroville, the largest in the State Water Project, which receives water from the Feather River Watershed.
Alternatively, in Texas, surface water is publicly owned and governed by the state. Landowners may use surface water for domestic and livestock purposes only unless they have a permit from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). Surface water in this region is commonly found in ponds, rivers, streams, and lakes and captured in stock tanks.
Groundwater is also a source of tap water and is used by approximately 78% of community water systems in the U.S. and supplies drinking water to 32% of community water system users. This type of water comes from rain and snow that collects in an underground pocket of rock called an aquifer. Groundwater comes to the surface to form a spring. It can also be accessed by drilling a well in the ground.
The well fills with groundwater and is pumped to the surface. If the water table falls below the bottom of the well, it can go dry. There are also artesian wells that don’t require a pump because there are natural pressures present that force the water out of the well and up to the surface. Through this process of retrieving groundwater, fertilizers and pesticides can easily pollute the water, which makes it unsafe to drink.
Lastly, there are private wells that distribute water to an individual residence. These include dug/bored wells, driven wells, and drilled wells. Well owners are responsible for ensuring their water supply is safe by regularly testing the well every spring at a minimum. EPA regulations that protect public drinking water systems don’t apply to privately owned wells.
Still have questions about the source of your drinking water? The best way to get more information about your tap water quality is to contact your local water provider. They can tell you where it comes from and how they treat it before pumping and piping it to your home. Public water systems are also required to notify consumers if water quality standards haven’t been met. Sometimes, it’s just easier to not worry about this and buy a residential bottleless water cooler for your home. You can also find out about the safety of your tap water through the annual Consumer Confidence Report.
How is Tap Water Treated?
In order to remove contaminants from either kind of water source to eventually be drinkable, public water systems must follow several steps to treat tap water for human consumption. The first steps are coagulation and flocculation. This is when chemicals with a positive charge are added to the water to neutralize the negative charge of dirt and other particles in the water. This chemical binding results in the formation of larger particles called floc, which settles to the bottom of the water supply due to its weight, a process called sedimentation.
From there, the water on top passes through filters to remove any additional particles like parasites, bacteria, viruses, chemicals, and other harmful components. Once the water is filtered, a disinfectant like chlorine is often added to kill any remaining contaminants. Each region in the U.S. uses a slightly different water purification method based on the original quality of water that is obtained.
In general, surface water requires more treatment and filtration than groundwater due to the number of pollutants found in the water source. These come from naturally occurring chemicals like radon and arsenic, local land use pesticide and fertilizers, sewer overflows, and malfunctioning wastewater treatment. The EPA regulates over 90 contaminants in water to make it drinkable for communities. These include:
- Organic chemicals
- Inorganic chemicals
- Disinfection byproducts
This regulation helps to eliminate exposure to contaminants that cause illness and other adverse health effects as much as possible when it comes to an area’s water supply. The EPA also has non-mandatory water quality standards for 15 additional contaminants established from the National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations. Although the contaminants tested are not considered a risk to human health, they do take into consideration water taste, color, and odor. These include aluminum, fluoride, copper, and sulfate, among others.
Finally, once it goes through all testing, the filtered and treated water, which is called potable water, gets stored in a reservoir. This water is then pumped through underground pipes that we call water mains. A public water utility also stores plenty of water to prepare for emergencies. The large water tanks that you may have seen around or outside your community are where this water is stored. Eventually, it then gets pumped to your tap.
How Does Tap Water Get to Your Home?
Where you live dictates how your tap water makes its way to your faucet. If you live in the country, your tap water likely comes from a private well on your property. However, you likely get your water from a public water supply regardless of if you live in a small town or a large city. For example, if you live in Seattle, your water comes from the Tolt and Cedar Rivers. New Yorkers get their water from the Delaware River Basin, while the Colorado River supplies water to more than 36 million people from Denver to Los Angeles.
A water pipe, known as a service lateral line, connects the water main to the plumbing in your home. The city’s water department pumps water from the reservoir, water tower, or other water storage area through these pipes directly to your home. This is what brings the water to your faucet when you turn it on. It’s amazing to think how many steps tap water has gone through and how long of a journey it’s been on before it reaches your home.
When your water comes from a public water supply, you pay a supplier fee based on your water usage. The water meter outside of your home or property measures your water use. Water utility companies charge customers to maintain infrastructures, such as storage tanks and underground pipes. Unfortunately, many cities face water infrastructure problems because of aging. Older infrastructures still use asbestos-cement pipes that are no longer allowed in today’s newer supply systems.
In Duluth, Minnesota, for example, there are 435 miles of water pipes underneath the city designed to last for approximately 100 years, which has led to a city plan for replacing one percent of the system each year. Other cities throughout the nation have to consider similar replacement plans, in order to avoid water pipe breaks and leaks. Pipes can also freeze and shift depending on weather conditions, construction projects, and other environmental causes.
Fees also help pay for corrosion control technology that can help reduce contaminants in tap water and provide energy savings from transporting water through uncorroded pipes. There are several rate structures including:
- Flat fee
- Uniform rate
- Increasing block rates
- Declining blocks rates
- Seasonal rates
- Drought rates
- Water budget based rates
Typically, water companies follow a mix of a fixed fee base with a variable fee determined by volume. All of this goes to the infrastructure and also the costs for a chemical treatment to provide safe, drinkable water to your home.
A Modern Way to Transform Tap Water
Even with regulated treatment, contamination may still be found in tap water and can pose health risks, such as gastrointestinal illness, neurological disorders, and reproductive problems. The frequency of drinking water testing depends on the water source and the types of contaminants tested. After the process is complete, tap water still has traces of chemicals and other contaminants such as:
It’s been reported that 25% of tap water fails to meet EPA standards. It’s not as drinkable as other options like FloWater, which eliminates 99% of contaminants from water. Clean and safe water is achievable through its innovative filtration system, which transforms tap water through seven purification steps. The water purification process includes:
- Sediment Filter (catches dirt, dust, and other solid impurities)
- Carbon Filter (removes smaller particles such as chlorine and hydrogen sulfide)
- Advanced Osmosis Filter (captures bacteria, viruses, pesticides, etc.)
- Activated Oxygen Filter (sanitizes tanks and internal systems and increases oxygen in the water)
- Alkaline Filter (neutralizes acidity by raising pH levels in the water through a proprietary blend of ten trace minerals)
- Electrolytes Filter (adds magnesium, potassium, sodium, and calcium, the same electrolytes found in sports drinks and coconut water)
- Coconut Carbon Filter (absorbs tiny contaminant particles and removes odors and taste)
This unique process removes impurities from tap water and adds minerals and electrolytes to the water for optimal taste. Due to the demand for pure water, all industries are interested in what FloWater provides. It’s been incorporated in businesses, schools, hotels, and gyms and wellness studios as part of a healthy lifestyle.
The convenience the FloWater Refilling Stations makes it easier to get purified water that benefits them physically, mentally, and environmentally. There’s no waste (as with plastic water bottles) and minimal maintenance. It’s an advanced way to use the tap water that’s already easily accessible and make it the best-tasting, most purified water on the market.