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.

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