tap water

How Well Do You Know Your H20?

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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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Wildfires Impact Water Resources in Colorado

By Nancy Stoner

It has been a hot and dry summer across most of the U.S. and one of the results has been an unusual number of forest fires. While controlled burns for fire suppression are a good thing, forest fires can be devastating to communities, causing loss of life, property damage, destruction of habitat, and severe water quality impacts.

I had the opportunity to visit a fire-ravaged area near Colorado Springs last week along with representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment, the Colorado Springs Utility, and my EPA colleagues from our regional office in Denver. We were observing the 18,000 acres affected by the Waldo Fire earlier this summer and the work of the burn area emergency response team led by the Forest Service to stabilize the most highly burned areas on steep slopes so that mud slides would not cause further loss of life, blockage of roadways, and loss of waterways.

The drinking water utility had already completely lost use of one of its reservoirs due to the extreme sedimentation caused by mud pouring off the charred landscape after even modest storms. While long-term restoration of the forest and all of its water protection benefits will take many years, the immediate business was mulching and strawing areas completely devoid of green vegetation. The forest service team of experts was doing this by dropping mulch and straw from the sky with helicopters.

EPA is contributing to this effort and will be contributing to additional watershed restoration efforts through its Clean Water Act 319 nonpoint source funding through the State of Colorado. Protection of surface water sources like this, which provides tap water for about 500,000 residents of Colorado, is one of the main uses of the 319 funding.

This is a great cooperative effort of the federal, state, and local governments working together to protect public health and safety. Hats off to the whole team for their fast and efficient work to address this emergency. EPA is proud to be a part of this effort.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water

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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Do You Use NYC Drinking Water Fountains?

By Kevin Hurley

Recently I have been making a concerted effort to carry a reusable water container to avoid the need to purchase a single-use plastic bottle.  However, finding a public water fountain to fill-up at is not always the easiest thing to do when you live in NYC.  Generally speaking, over the past few decades, water fountains throughout the country have been fading from our city’s public landscapes.  The need to “Bring Back the Water Fountain” is a healthy, affordable, and sustainable way to get more residents of our city to consume NYC’s tap water.  But how do we make folks more aware of this priceless resource?

NYC Water-On-the Go Drinking Fountain

There are a lot of great programs and initiatives occurring within our city aimed at increasing awareness and accessibility to our world renowned drinking water.  For starters, TapIt is trying to build a widespread partnership of cafes in the city that will make clean tap water accessible to the public.  Additionally, the 100 Fountains Project, in partnership with NYC, is a global design competition which seeks to install 100 new fully operational drinking fountains through the city.  The hope of this project is to revive the public drinking fountain.

The return of summer also signals the return of the NYC Water-On-the-Go program, where outdoor drinking water stations are hooked up to the city’s fire hydrants for the drinking and filling of water bottles.  Want to find where the stations will be and when?  There’s an app for that…sorry android users.

While there are some great projects occurring within NYC, other cities looking to promote their high-quality tap water and reduce single-use bottled water consumption are coming up with some innovative ideas.  I really like what San Francisco is doing with their “DrinkTap Project.”  The city is installing sleek, blue tap stations throughout the city where residents and visitors alike can easily refill their reusable containers.  Check out the map / video (and catchy song) that the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission has put together in order to help spread the word.

I am a frequent user of the water fountains in NYC, well to be honest, one water fountain in particular.  Whenever I exercise in central park, I am sure to make a stop for some cold, clean NYC water.  Nothing beats some high quality H2O, especially after logging a few miles in the park.  If you have ever walked around the west side of the Central Park reservoir loop you may have stumbled onto my go-to water fountain.  I really need to branch out and find some new water fountains across the city…

Any suggestions?

About the Author:  Kevin has been working as a Grants Management Specialist with the EPA since 2007, and is currently on detail serving as special assistant to the Regional Administrator.  He grew up in South Jersey, went to school outside of Baltimore, and received a Masters in Public Policy from Rutgers University.  Kevin currently resides in the Upper East Side of Manhattan where you can usually find him exercising or playing outdoor ice hockey in Central Park.

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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Bring Back The Water Fountain

By Nancy Stoner

Last summer I was walking through the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was a hot, steamy summer day and I was thirsty, so I looked for a water fountain. After several blocks of searching, I realized that while there is a bar on every corner, there are no drinking fountains in sight. The lack of public water fountains is not unique to New Orleans – water fountains have been disappearing from public spaces throughout the country over the last few decades. And with the loss of drinking fountains also comes a loss of public knowledge about the importance of investing in drinking water systems, which provide dependable, affordable and clean water.

Reinvigorating public water fountains provides a variety of benefits. They provide a service to residents and tourists who need a drink of clean water. They provide an alternative to sodas and other high-sugar drinks for children, both in schools and around town. When old, broken-down drinking fountains are restored it preserves historic relics of our cities.

Water fountains can also save money. The U.S. provides some of the highest quality tap water in the world at a very low cost to consumers. Municipalities work hard to provide this service, spending billions of dollars to provide clean tap water, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. On average, the cost to treat, filter and deliver tap water is 0.2 cents per gallon – roughly 750-2,700 times less expensive than bottled water. In spite of this cost difference, Americans drink around 30 gallons of bottled water per person per year. And with one estimate that 1,500 bottles of water are consumed in the U.S. every second, this is a huge amount going into the recycling and waste stream. Since cities bear the cost of collecting, transporting, recycling and land-filling plastic bottles, reducing this stream could save city resources.

Many cities are taking action. Minneapolis, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. are encouraging residents to drink tap water, in part by reinvigorating public water fountains. EPA is also working with mayors across the country through the U.S. Conference of Mayors to promote the value of public water fountains.

Growing up, many of us remember getting thirsty and finding the nearest drinking fountain. It’s time to reinvigorate and celebrate our public water system and the clean, safe drinking water we have. It’s time to bring back the water fountain.

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water

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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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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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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