bottled water

What’s on Tap?

by Pam Lazos

 

Tap water flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist.

Tap water flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist.

Today in the U.S., through miracles of engineering and ingenuity, clean water is delivered right to your faucet, cheaply, efficiently and good enough to drink, bathe in and cook with. Do you know why? Since the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, EPA has been regulating the water we drink, and that’s a beautiful thing. EPA sets legal limits, designed to protect human health, on the levels of more than 90 contaminants in drinking water. There are also rules that set how and when water must be tested. So why does tap water sometimes get a bad rap when it flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist?

Some say they prefer the taste of bottled water over tap water, and others believe bottled is safer than tap. Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under its food safety program. But where does that bottled water come from? If you look at the label of any bottled water, you’re likely to see waterfalls and pristine lakes, or wild rivers and cool mountain springs. The scene is relaxing, energizing, soothing, and delightful, right? But what you see is not always what you get: about 25% of all bottled water is actually tap water! When you factor in the safety and convenience of tap water with the higher relative cost of bottled water, the plastic waste often associated with bottled water, and the greenhouse gases associated with transporting bottled water, the reasons to turn to tap water really start to stack up.

When you’re on the go and you need a refreshing drink, fill up your own personal bottle with tap water. Today you can find attractive and lightweight water bottle containers in every size and color so it’s no problem finding the container that you need while in the car, going for a run, or while at work. So next time, don’t reach for the bottled water. Turn on the tap! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

About the author: Pam Lazos is an attorney in the Office of Regional Counsel in EPA Region 3, and focuses on water law. When not in the office, she keeps bees, writes books, and volunteers in her community on various projects that benefit women and children.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Real Value of a Penny

by Pamela Lazos

The mighty penny.

The mighty penny.

When I was a kid we used to recite the rhyme “see a penny, pick it up, then all day you’ll have good luck.” There were certain rules, though. The luck was only for the finder if it was heads up. Tails up and you had to give it away immediately or risk bad luck. Apparently, these superstitions morph over time: when my mom was a kid, the penny was only lucky if you put it in your shoe.

But even in 2014, a penny can go a long way, as I learned on a recent tour of Pennsylvania American Water’s Coatesville, Pennsylvania, treatment plant. Customers of this water system pay just a penny for a gallon of water. By comparison, if you purchase a 24 ounce bottle of water at your local convenience store, a conservative estimate says you’d pay about $1.29. Pennsylvania American Water sells 128 ounces of water for one cent. If they charged the same amount as your local convenience store, that gallon of water would cost their customers $9.50, a hefty price tag in any market.

The staff at this treatment plant, as in most water treatment plants across the country, is very knowledgeable and takes pride in their work. The plant itself is state of the art. Aging equipment has been replaced, and new chemical feed systems have been installed. A centralized data-monitoring system keeps track of plant operations, and an electronic read-out in the lab area displays the intake and outflow, constantly monitoring for compliance with drinking water standards.

And you don’t have to leave your house to get a tour of a drinking water treatment plant. You can go on EPA’s Virtual Water Treatment Plant tour any time! This interactive video guides you through the treatment process from source to tap.

As we come up on the 40th anniversary of the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the tour was a great reminder of how exceptionally important tap water, and the water industry professionals that produce it are to our health and our communities.

 

About the author: Pam Lazos is an attorney in the Office of Regional Counsel in EPA Region 3, and focuses on water law. When not in the office, she keeps bees, writes books, and volunteers in her community on various projects that benefit women and children.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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How Well Do You Know Your H20?

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By John Senn

I drink a lot of tap water – a glass in the morning before I leave for work, three or four throughout the work day and several more from the time I get home until I go to bed. So when I came upon a booth from the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority (aka DC Water) featuring a taste test between tap water and bottled water, which I virtually never drink, I thought I would surely be able to tell the difference. But I could not; the two samples I tried tasted virtually identical.

This summer, DC Water is asking Washington residents whether they can taste the difference between tap water and bottled water. Photo credit: Courtesy of DC Water

This summer, DC Water is asking Washington residents whether they can taste the difference between tap water and bottled water. Photo credit: Courtesy of DC Water

I was heartened to learn that I was not alone in flunking the taste test. Last year, only about half of participants who took DC Water’s taste test were able to identify the correct sample as tap water and more than half ranked tap water as better tasting or did not taste a difference between the two.

Despite the fact that tap water is virtually free – a gallon costs consumers about a penny – many people still prefer to drink bottled water. DC Water says that figure is about 50 percent in Washington. Admittedly, tap water, especially in big cities like Washington, gets a bad rap due to incidents where public health has been compromised because of excessive pollution in the water supply. Those incidents, while well-publicized, are relatively rare and in the case of an immediate public health threat, your drinking water provided is required by law to alert its customers. In 2011, 93 percent of Americans that got their water from a public water supply received water that met federal standards for drinking water every day of the year, evidence that the U.S. enjoys one of best drinking water systems in the world.

Tap water is also regulated by EPA and local public water systems are required to provide their customers with a report about the quality of their drinking water each summer. Soon, that report will be available by email. But bottled water, which is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is important to have stockpiled in case of an emergency situations or natural disasters when your tap water may be unavailable or compromised for several days.

And regardless of whether you can tell the difference between tap water and bottled water, you can get more information about your drinking water on our website or by contacting your local provider.

About the author: John Senn is the deputy communications director in EPA’s Office of Water and also serves as a member of the Agency’s emergency response team.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Bathtub Preparedness Planning

Several links below exit EPA Exit EPA Disclaimer

By Michael Dexter

Growing up in Florida the threat of extreme weather brought a rush of last minute preparations, and I clearly remember the urgency involved with preparing for such events. We would clear portions of the house likely to flood, park the car on high ground, and ready an inflatable dinghy. Like many people, we had stocks of food and bottled water. However, we also filled up the bathtub with water in case service was out for awhile. I guess you could say the bathtub became our prime–make that our only–backup water supply plan.

If we lost water pressure, we used a gallon of water from the tub for flushing. If directed by our health department, we boiled water to drink. When we needed to wash, we scooped another cup out of the tub. While I understood the need for personal preparedness, I never thought about how the broader community prepared for water service interruptions, or what could have happened if that interruption lasted for more than a day or two.

Today, EPA works with communities and water utilities across the country to help them prepare for extreme weather events like floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. The EPA’s Community-Based Water Resiliency Tool helps communities and utilities understand and plan for the widespread impacts that often accompany extreme weather events. The tool helps critical community services like healthcare facilities, energy producers, and firefighters assess and increase their own preparedness level by providing tools and resources to gauge their current level of preparedness.

Last May, EPA worked with St. Clair County, Michigan on a roundtable exercise using the tool. The meeting promoted a better awareness of interdependencies between water and other community services, fostered a greater understanding of the county’s water infrastructure, discussed potential community impacts of a water service interruption during an extreme weather event, and identified actions and resources needed to respond to, and recover from, a water emergency. Drills like this exercise are a tremendous opportunity for entities like St. Clair County to think strategically about how to respond to an emergency situation that could affect thousands of its residents.

Like your community or water utility, you can prepare for the impacts of an extreme weather event. Just go to ready.gov

About the author: Michael Dexter is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education participant with EPA’s Water Security Division. He lived in Southwest Florida for over two decades and experienced Hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Mitch among others. He currently resides in Washington, DC and works on the Community-Based Water Resiliency effort to help utilities, and the communities they serve, increase all hazard water preparedness.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Bring Back the Water Fountain

A Water-on-the-Go fountain on Wall Street (EPA photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Alyssa Arcaya

EPA is partnering with mayors in cities across the US to bring back the water fountain!   In cooperation with the United States Conference of Mayors, EPA has committed to work with mayors and cities to invest in public water fountains and promote the benefits of drinking tap water.

New York City is known for having some of the best tasting tap water in the country.  It’s so good that one private company actually bottles and sells it – clearly labeled as New York City tap water.  New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) estimates that tap water costs the public just $0.01 per gallon, making it about 1000 times cheaper than bottled water.  Still, Americans consume about 50 billion bottles of water per year.  Bottled water isn’t just expensive, it’s resource intensive too.  The Pacific Institute estimates that 17 million gallons of oil are required to produce the bottled water that Americans drink in a single year.   But bottled water is convenient, which is one reason we buy so much of it.  Invigorating our system of public drinking fountains is one way to make tap water more accessible for New Yorkers and the tourists that visit the city.

DEP has begun to expand the network of drinking fountains in New York City through its Water-on-the-Go program.  When summer comes, they place portable fountains in parks, plazas and greenmarkets across the five boroughs.   DEP portable water fountains have also made appearances at Fashion Week, Staten Island Yankees’ games and other special events.  Some of the fountains even have special spigots that can be used to fill a dog’s bowl.  DEP has developed a smartphone app that can help you locate their water fountains when they’re back this summer.

Through our taxes, we all pay to support our public drinking water systems.  By expanding the system of public drinking fountains, we can provide access to clean, safe tap water and reduce our reliance on bottled water and other, less healthy options.  EPA is looking for more mayors and cities to sign up to support public water fountains in their communities.  For more information, check out the EPA page.

About the Author: Alyssa Arcaya serves as EPA Region 2’s water coordinator.  She came to EPA through the Presidential Management Fellows program, through which she also worked for EPA’s Office of International and Tribal Affairs and the Water Team at the U.S. Department of State.  She graduated from Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies with a Masters in Environmental Management.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Race is on – Tap Versus Bottled

The City provides public water fountains in order to promote tap water over bottled water. (EPA Photo/Kasia Broussalian)

By Kasia Broussalian

If bottled water companies have their way, drinking fountains may go the way of the pay phone. This is a startling realization, as more and more public drinking fountains in office buildings, parks, and airports stand unused. The environmental impacts from a primary consumption of bottled water are astronomical, and, truth be told, the water in there is not all it’s cracked up to be. Is bottled water any better than the stuff that comes straight from your tap here in New York City? Not usually. Though labels claim that their water comes from fresh mountain springs, 25-40 percent actually comes directly from municipal water sources—in other words….it’s the same thing coming out of your tap. And you already pay for it. In addition, the Federal Drug Administration monitors bottled water quality, while EPA monitors the municipal source. Not to brag, but in many cases, our codes are stricter.

So far, it’s tap 1, bottled 1. Pretty evenly matched. But what about the sustainability aspect? Many people claim that plastic water bottles are recyclable, and therefore, not a strain on the environment. Silly people, even if everyone did recycle their bottles (they don’t, not even close) it’s not just the bottle itself that takes a toll. It’s the manufacturing, the trucking, the shelving and the marketing. At the end of each day, the U.S. has accumulated 70 million empty water bottles, 86 percent of which are not recycled.  To meet this demand for plastic, enough oil to keep 100,000 cars on the road for a year must be used. Now, think for just a minute—is all that worth it when you can pour the same, if not better, water right from your taps into a reusable glass?

Tap: 10, bottled: 1.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Question of the Week: Why do you drink bottled water or tap water?

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

Most Americans have safe tap water and drink tap water fresh from the kitchen faucet. Others choose to buy more expensive bottled water. But bottling and transporting water can carry environmental costs and use energy and resources, and bottles contribute to littering if not properly disposed of.

Why do you drink bottled water or tap water?

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En español: Cada semana hacemos una pregunta relacionada al medio ambiente. Por favor comparta con nosotros sus pensamientos y comentarios. Siéntase en libertad de responder a comentarios anteriores o plantear nuevas ideas. Preguntas previas.

Muchos estadounidenses tienen agua potable sana y beben agua fresca del grifo de la cocina. Otros optan por comprar agua embotellada más cara. Sin embargo, el embotellar y transportar agua conlleva costos medioambientales y el uso de energía y recursos. Asimismo, las botellas contribuyen a los desperdicios si no se desechan adecuadamente.

¿Por qué toma agua embotellada o del grifo?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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