National Drinking Water Week

Think at the Sink during Drinking Water Week

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By Katie Henderson

This week is national drinking water week, and the theme is “What do you know about H2O?” Have you ever considered how water travels from its source and ends up in your kitchen sink?

In 2006, I worked as a volunteer in South Africa. One day I drove across the province to visit a game preserve, leaving the city where I spent most of my time. The contrast between the city and the country was always jarring, and this day I drove farther into the countryside than I’d ever been. Gradually towns dissipated and were replaced by clusters of domed huts. Off to one side of the road, I spotted a woman and her daughter carrying buckets of water into their village. It is hard to describe the dissonance that I felt during this recreational outing to look at elephants with a liter of bottled water tucked into my seat. I’d never had to haul water into my home; I just turned on the tap and safe, clean water poured out. UNICEF estimates that many people in developing countries, particularly women and girls, walk six kilometers a day for water.

The Safe Drinking Water Act authorizes the EPA to set drinking water standards, protect drinking water sources, and work with states and water systems to deliver safe drinking water some 300 million Americans. In the U.S., the last century has seen amazing improvements to drinking water quality. Mortality rates have plummeted and life expectancy has climbed as a result of better science and engineering, public investment in drinking water infrastructure, and the establishment of landmark environmental laws like the Clean Water Act and Safe Drinking Water Act. Some historians claim that clean water technologies are likely the most important public health intervention of the 20th century.

Today, we can celebrate the fact that the vast majority of people living in the United States have access to safe drinking water. Ninety-two percent of Americans receive clean, safe drinking water every day, and EPA is working to make that number even higher by partnering with states to reduce pollution and improve our drinking water systems. However, we should be aware of new challenges to our drinking water systems like climate change, aging infrastructure and nutrient pollution.

For drinking water week this year, stop and think about how far we’ve come by paying attention each time you turn on your tap.

About the author: Katie Henderson is an Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education Participant in the Drinking Water Protection Division of EPA’s Office of Water. She likes to travel, bake cookies, and promote environmental justice.

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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Our World of Water

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By Cameron Davis

Spring time commemorates a number of environmental awareness days.

Held on March 22 every year, World Water Day is a product of the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development that was held in Rio de Janeiro.

Then comes Earth Day every April 22, an idea sprung from the mind of the late U.S. Sen. Gaylord Nelson (hailing from one of our Great Lakes states!). The first Earth Day was in 1970, the same year that Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Waters” surged in the music charts.

This month brings National Drinking Water Week, May 6-12, originated by the American Water Works Association some 30 years ago.

These global and national commemoratives are great reminders about why we need to care about H20. But we don’t really have a Great Lakes commemorative day.

So let’s make one up later this month. We have several opportunities. First, we have webinars and public meetings coming up for input on the next Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Action Plan.  For details about webinars and public meetings in Buffalo on May 28, Milwaukee on May 30, and Cleveland on June 5.

Second, we could target every Friday before Memorial Day; this year, on May 24. That’s when the official summer beach season opens at hundreds of these special, sandy places. What better way to celebrate the Lakes that we love than by providing your thoughts at one of these forums and toasting to the Lakes on the beach with drinking water from the Great Lakes? After all, we are what we drink.

What do you think about a Great Lakes Day?

About the author: Cameron Davis is Senior Advisor to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. He provides counsel on Great Lakes matters, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

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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Drinking Water Week 2013: What’s in YOUR Water?

By Lisa Donahue

I like to go camping in the summer with my kids. We make sure the hiking boots fit and pile all the gear and food in the car, with a plan to explore the wild lands of Pennsylvania.  We camp in state parks or private campgrounds. We have snacks to eat, and marshmallows to toast, but… what about water?

Do we drink straight from a stream? Certainly not! Streams can contain harmful bacteria and other pollutants.Do I buy bottled water to bring?  Or fill up our water bottles at the camp ground?

Taking a hike at Worlds End State Park

Taking a hike at Worlds End State Park

I think about drinking water all the time – it’s my job.  I’m part of the EPA team in the Mid Atlantic Region that administers and enforces the Safe Drinking Water Act, the law that says we should all have safe water to drink.

Public Water Systems regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act have to conduct tests to make sure the water they supply to customers and visitors isn’t contaminated.  Campgrounds and state parks are likely to be regulated as public water systems.  They are often in sparsely populated areas and use their own wells or other water sources to provide water to the campers and visitors.

How do I find out whether or not the water at a particular place is OK?  I check the data systems.  Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has an on-line database of all of their water systems.  I can search by the name of the park or campground where I’m planning to go, or search geographically.   Find it here:  http://www.drinkingwater.state.pa.us/dwrs/HTM/Welcome.html

Once I find the place I’m looking for, I can check to see if there are any violations.  Did the campground conduct all the tests it was supposed to?  Did those tests come out OK, showing no contamination?  If I’m venturing further away from home, some other states have similar on-line databases.  Also, EPA maintains the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS), which is accessible through our Envirofacts web site.

By the way, these databases don’t just have information on campgrounds!  They have information on community water systems, too — the water system serving your city or town.  For the most part, the water systems in the mid-Atlantic states meet EPA standards.

There are lots of ways to get information about what’s in the water we drink.  Did you find something through one of the links above about your drinking water?

Drinking Water Week is May 5-11.  Celebrate by taking some time to learn more about your drinking water sources!

About the Author:  Lisa Donahue has been an Environmental Scientist with EPA’s Mid Atlantic Region for over twenty years.  She’s a native of southeastern Pennsylvania, and enjoys being outside in all four seasons.

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 More You Know… About Your Drinking Water

By Christina Catanese

Delivering safe drinking water is a process many of us take for granted when we turn on the tap, but one that requires careful and constant management.

When you get mail from your water provider, it probably doesn’t seem any more exciting than any of the other bills in the mail pile.  But soon, you’ll be receiving something from your water system that you might want to take a closer look at.  It will certainly be more interesting than writing a check, and you’ll get some valuable information about your drinking water.

Each year by July 1st, you should receive a short report (called a consumer confidence report or drinking water quality report) in the mail from your water supplier that tells you two main things: where your water comes from and what’s in it.

These annual reports provide tons of useful information in an overview of the quality of the water that comes out of your tap.  It will tell you the river, aquifer, or other source of drinking water that your water comes from, and the main threats to the source water in your area.  Your report will list any regulated contaminants that were detected in treated water in the last calendar year, whether there were any violations of EPA standards, and the possible risks to your health.

Besides providing a wealth of information, reports point you in the direction of places to learn even more, like EPA’s safe drinking water hotline, information about your local water system, and source water assessments.  Still thirsty for information about your drinking water?  Find information for your state here. Some state agencies also post information on the systems they regulate on Drinking Water Watch.

If you don’t get your annual report in the mail (or if it somehow gets eaten by the mail pile monster), you might be able to find it online.  Any community water system that serves more than 100,000 people is required to make its report available on the web.  Some smaller systems also post their reports online.  See if your water system’s report is posted here. You can always contact your water system if you can’t find your report or have questions about your drinking water supply.

Have you gotten your annual report yet?  Do you usually read them when you get them?  What information would you like to see that isn’t included in your annual report?  Tell us what you learned from your report in the comments section.

National Drinking Water Week is next week, May 6-12! Celebrate by taking some time to get to know your drinking water.

About the Author: Christina Catanese has worked at EPA since 2010, and her work focuses on data analysis and management, GIS mapping and tools, communications, and other tasks that support the work of Regional water programs. Originally from Pittsburgh, Christina has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, where she earned a B.A. in Environmental Studies and Political Science and an M.S. in Applied Geosciences with a Hydrogeology concentration. Trained in dance (ballet, modern, and other styles) from a young age, Christina continues to perform, choreograph and teach in the Philadelphia area.

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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Toast to Tap Water

Toast to Tap Water

Thirsty?  Why not reach for a glass of tap water?  It’s the planet’s original source of refreshment and hydration, and it’s a vital component of our daily lives.  Americans drink more than one billion glasses of tap water per day!  In fact, children in the first six months of life consume seven times as much water per pound as the average American adult.

 A safe water supply is critical to protecting health.  In the United States, community water supplies are tested every day.  EPA has drinking water regulations for more than 90 contaminants.  Collectively, water utilities in this country treat nearly 34 billion gallons of water daily!

 Try to imagine your daily routine without tap water.  How would you shower without it?  Could you wash your fruit and vegetables?  Clean your clothes?  Scrub your dishes?  Tap water touches every aspect of our lives, from the products we use to the food we eat.  Even firefighting would be impacted without tap water.  Firefighters depend on a reliable water system with high pressure and volume.  In most communities, water flowing to fire hydrants is conveyed by the same system of water mains, pumps and storage tanks as the water flowing to your home.

 Many communities are implementing protection efforts to prevent contamination of their drinking water supplies.  These communities have found that the less polluted water is before it reaches the treatment plant, the less extensive and expensive the efforts needed to safeguard the public’s health.  You can help to protect your public water supply, too.  Limit your use of fertilizers and pesticides, clean up after your pets and don’t throw trash in storm drains.  For more ideas, visit our webpage for actions you can take today.

 So raise your glass, toast the extraordinary effort that goes into ensuring a safe public water supply, and celebrate National Drinking Water Week from May 1st to May 7th, 2011.

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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