Water is the most essential element for life on earth. However, even in the twenty-first century, access to clean water is not always a given. The most recent report from the World Health Organization notes that only 71 percent of people worldwide have access to clean water.
If you’re part of the population of people who has access to clean water, there are steps you can take to ensure the water flowing into your home stays clean and is even safer and better-tasting for you and your family.
Where does our water come from?
Most of the water for public use in the United States comes from surface water, or water derived from rivers, streams, and lakes. Because this water is not safe to drink on its own, it must undergo a variety of processes to ensure its safety. These processes are carried out at one of the country’s 16,000 wastewater treatment plants before the water is distributed through the public water system. During these processes, dangerous particles are filtered and removed and disinfectants are added to eliminate harmful bacteria and toxic metals from the water.
Some states have local regulations for wastewater treatment and the agents that can or cannot be added to treated water. For example, California requires fluoride to be added to wastewater treatment systems with 10,000 or more connections, while Hawaii does not currently fluoridate its public water sources. Some wastewater treatment plants will also improve the color, odor, and taste of the water by mixing it with air in a process called aeration.
What qualifies as clean water?
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure the safety of drinking water for millions of Americans. The original act focused on regulating the treatment of public water; however, in 1996, an amendment was added to bring attention to the importance of protecting public water sources and guaranteeing funding for improvements to public water systems. This act has been the most significant factor in safeguarding the quality of the water that flows from our taps.
The EPA is responsible for establishing drinking water safety standards that are then enforced at the federal and state levels. These standards require states to conduct frequent testing of public water sources to prevent the threat of contamination, as well as maintain the maximum level of contaminants allowed in public drinking water. Although states have some autonomy when it comes to the management of their public water systems, the EPA is the official governing body providing insight for water-quality criteria and overseeing the safety of drinking water in the US.
The standards for safe drinking water set by the EPA establish maximum levels for harmful chemicals, including acenaphthene (found in car oil and tar), benzene (found in gasoline and paint thinner), and ethylene glycol (found in antifreeze), among others. It also offers guidelines for naturally occurring compounds, such as aluminum, copper, and zinc, all of which can be potentially harmful in high concentrations.
How to Improve Your Water
Even if your water meets state and federal quality standards, there are steps you can take to further improve the water in your home. If you are unhappy with the way your water tastes or how it feels on your skin when you bathe, try the following solutions.
Test your water
If you live in a rural area and get your drinking water from a private well, your water quality is not tested or maintained by federal or state regulators. Therefore, it is crucial that you test your well water to regularly ensure its quality. The CDC recommends having a professional test your water once a year.
Households with access to a public water system do not need to test their water as often. However, if you are curious about your water quality, consult one of your state’s certified laboratories to have an inspection done. In addition, your community water supplier is required to share its annual Consumer Confidence Report, which provides information on local water quality.
Buy a filtration or treatment system
There are a wide variety of home water-filtration and treatment systems to choose from, so it can be challenging to know which one is right for your household. First, determine what you want to achieve from installing a system. Do you want your water to taste better? Are you concerned about the level of certain contaminants based on your community’s report? Do you want your water to feel softer on your skin? Ask yourself these questions to narrow your search.
Once you’ve determined the goals you have for your water, you can review the types of systems available to you. Filtration systems use an absorbent to remove impurities from the water. Microfiltration is the most basic option, and it is moderately effective at removing bacteria but not effective at removing viruses or chemicals. Nanofiltration is highly effective at removing bacteria and viruses and moderately effective at removing chemicals.
Another type of system, reverse osmosis, takes a different approach. It treats the water via a natural process, reversing its flow and pushing it through a semipermeable membrane, thus diluting it. Reverse osmosis is highly effective at removing bacteria, viruses, and common chemicals like chloride and lead.
Invest in a water softener
Have you noticed mineral deposits and stains around your showerheads or faucets? Or a rough feeling on your skin after washing your hands or showering? This could be from high levels of hard minerals in your water. Although this is not necessarily harmful, it can be unpleasant.
Installing a water softener can be an easy solution to fix this problem. Most water softeners use salt to pull minerals out of the water, but this can negatively impact people in your home, depending on their health needs; for example, if anyone is on a low-sodium diet, you should avoid this type of system. You’ll also need to consider your frequency of water use to determine the size of the water softener you need and how easy it will be to use. It can be useful to consult a professional who can help you select the option that will meet your needs.
While it’s often taken for granted, having access to safe and clean water should be one of your top priorities for your home. Put your family’s health and safety first by making sure your water quality is the best it can be.