Drinking Water Use

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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What Lurks Beneath

By Lee Murphy

WaterSupply_059They’re underground, out of sight, and generally out of mind.

Many of us take for granted the systems that bring water to our homes and take it away when we’re done with it.  That is, until something goes wrong.  Water main breaks and sewage backups are becoming more common.  They offer stark reminders that the network of pipes and other water-related hardware in many communities is getting old.

Studies like one done in Pennsylvania in 2008 identify just how serious the problem is, and the challenges of financing needed infrastructure repairs.

So what can you do about it?  If your water and wastewater system is publicly owned (by a local government) you can get involved by:

  • Attending local meetings: Ask about the condition of the system. The best systems maintain an inventory of their physical assets, know the condition of those assets, know the risk and impact of failures, and have a plan for the eventual replacements. If the managers of your system cannot provide the information, suggest they do Asset Management Planning.
  • Learning more: You can find more information on public water and wastewater systems here, here, and here

Out of sight doesn’t have to mean out of mind when it comes to our water infrastructure!  Do you know anything about the condition of the water infrastructure in your community and what’s being done about it?  What is water worth to you?

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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Fix a Leak Week 2012: What I Do to Save Water

By Elona Myftaraj

WaterSupply_049

I lived in Albania until I was about six years old, and one of the few things I remember is how scarce water was.  There was very little indoor plumbing, and every Saturday was spent walking up the mountain carrying water, an all day trip.  All water was stored in huge barrels, each specified for drinking, bathing, farming, or household chores.  The water had to be carefully rationed so it didn’t run out.

When we moved to the United States, my sisters and I were fascinated with the indoor water systems.  Since water was now abundant, we started to get carried away with our usage.  We could control the temperature of the water instead of waiting for the sun to warm it up, and we could finish the dishes unbelievably quickly.  There were no more trips up the mountain and, seemingly, no need to conserve.  We had all of the water we wanted, whenever we wanted it… that is, until our dad saw the water bill.  He reminded us of the way we used to live and explained to us how important conserving water was, even if we live in a place where its supply is not scarce.  We learned to do simple things to save water, like not letting the sink run when we brush our teeth, and remembered that we didn’t need to waste so much.

Working as a student at the EPA has taught me a great deal about how important water is, along with many ways to conserve.  I learned that a toilet leak can waste as much as 200 gallons of water every day, and that washing your car with a bucket and sponge instead of a hose saves a lot of water.  Replacing old or broken showerheads, sink faucets, and toilets with the WaterSense labeled products can be a big help.  Just taking a few simple steps can help save a lot of water.

That’s how I learned to save water.  What’s your story? Share it with us in honor of Fix a Leak Week (March 12-19, 2012).

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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Your Comments Sought on Drinking Water Quality Report

By Christina Catanese

WaterSupply_029

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 public water supplier that tells you two main things: where your water comes from and what’s in it.  It’s an annual water quality report that a community water system is required to provide to its customers each year.  The report lists the regulated contaminants found in your drinking water, as well as health effects information related to any violations of the drinking water standards.

If you’ve looked at these reports in the past, have you ever felt like there was information that wasn’t in them that you wished there was?  Or you wished you could read the report online instead of in print?  How could these reports be more valuable to you?

EPA will be holding an online public meeting on Thursday, February 23, 2012, to get your thoughts on these reports.  EPA periodically reviews its existing regulations, and is right now seeking public input on the consumer confidence report rule.

Topics on the agenda include:

  • electronic delivery of the reports,
  • resource implications for implementing report delivery certification,
  • use of reports to meet public notification requirements,
  • how contaminant levels are reported in the consumer confidence reports,
  • and more!

YOU are invited to participate in this information exchange on the consumer confidence report rule and make your voice heard!

To participate in this listening session, you can register here.   Can’t participate in the live meeting?  You can also join the web dialogue discussions community.  You can share and post comments on the dialogue in this online forum from February 23, 2012, to March 9, 2012.

For more information, please email CCRRetrospectiveReview@epa.gov.

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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Flush or Drain, Will Cause a Strain

Drug Takeback Day

By Trey Cody

Do you, like many other Americans, look into your medicine cabinet and see bottles of unused prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs? Being in the bathroom with a sink and toilet readily available, your first thought may be to simply flush or dispose of them down the drain. Yes, pills are water soluble, but this solution may have negative outcomes.

When flushed and drained, it’s possible for pharmaceuticals to get into our streams, rivers and lakes.  This is because drugs, including antibiotics, hormones, contraceptives and steroids are not always removed completely at waste water treatment facilities. Continued exposure to low levels of pharmaceuticals in our water systems may alter the behavior and physiology of the fish and other aquatic organisms who call it home.  EPA has been working with other federal agencies and state and local government partners to better understand the implications low levels of pharmaceuticals in water, the potential effects on aquatic organisms and if there is an impact on human health.

Though flushing and draining is not the only way pharmaceuticals enter our wastewater, it’s one we can do something about.

April 28, 2012 is the next National Prescription Drug Take Back Day issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration.  During this time you can drop off your unwanted drugs at many participating municipal locations, where they will be disposed of safely and properly.  The last event collected over 188.5 tons of unwanted or expired medications at the 5,327 take-back sites that were available in all 50 states.

But you don’t have to wait until April to dispose of your old meds. You can contact your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service to find if there are drop off locations in your area.  If all else fails, you can dispose of drugs in your household trash by following a few simple steps.

How do you dispose of your unwanted pharmaceuticals? Have you participated in any take back programs?  Do you have any suggestions of how to improve programs like these?  Let us know!

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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New Year, New Student Challenge

By Alysa Suero

As 2010 winners in the Elementary School category, the students of Worcester Elementary were all smiles after the award ceremony!

The new year is soon here.  What opportunities await us as we turn the calendar?  If you’re a student leading a school group or participating in a class project to study and protect the Schuylkill River, the new year brings an opportunity to show off your project to a regional audience.

Nominations are now open for the 8th annual Schuylkill Action Network Drinking Water Scholastic Awards, and qualifying for consideration is easy!  All you have to do is lead or participate in a classroom lesson or outdoor project that improves the water quality of the Schuylkill River, a source of drinking water for approximately 1.5 million people.  Previous winning projects include building a campus rain garden, planting trees near a creek, and creating and filming short public service announcements about keeping our rivers clean.

Students in kindergarten through college are eligible for a prize, but only if you enter by March 2, 2012 in one of four age categories (elementary, middle, high school and college).  Teachers, students, parents and community members can nominate a class, an individual college student or a campus club!

The Schuylkill Action Network (SAN) is a collaboration of more than one hundred organizations and individuals, including EPA Region 3, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Philadelphia Water Department, the Delaware River Basin Commission, and the Partnership for the Delaware Estuary.  The goal of the SAN is to improve the water resources of the Schuylkill River watershed.

To learn more about the annual awards, including nomination criteria, or to nominate your class or student leader online, visit: http://events.r20.constantcontact.com/register/event?llr=v6qlnbcab&oeidk=a07e5425qmq59cca5d3

Remember, the deadline for nominations is March 2, 2012.

In the meantime, share your comments below about what you do to keep the Schuylkill River clean.

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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An Rx for Unused Pills

Click here to get EPA tips on how to dispose of your medicine.By Brian Hamilton

If you’re like most Americans, you may have some expired or unused medicines sitting in your house and you’re not sure what to do with them.

The Drug Enforcement Administration knows this is a big problem.   That’s why the DEA is hosting a National Drug Take Back Day on Saturday, October 29, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at many different municipal locations.   Last year, nearly 4,000 local agencies participated in the event and collected over 309 tons of pills.

So what does this have to do with Healthy Waters?

Prescription and over-the-counter drugs poured down the drain or flushed down the toilet can pass through wastewater treatment plants and enter rivers and lakes, which may serve as sources downstream for community drinking water supplies.  In homes that use septic tanks, medicines flushed down the toilet can leach into the ground and seep into ground water.

In addition to the National Drug Take Back Day, check with your municipal or county government’s household trash and recycling service to see if there are other drug take-back programs available in your community.

Click here to learn more about the National Drug Take Back Day and find take back locations. Also click here to get EPA tips on how to dispose of your medicine.

About the Author: Brian Hamilton works in the Water Protection Division’s Office of Program Support at Region 3. He helps manage the Healthy Waters Blog, and assists in reviewing mining permits and does other duties as assigned. Brian grew up in Central Pennsylvania. He has worked for the EPA since July 2010.

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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A Firsthand View

By Trey Cody

Wastewater Treatment 101 

As an intern in EPA Region III’s Water Protection Division, my day typically involved working in the office on projects related to the region’s Healthy Waters Initiative.      

But near the end of my internship this summer, I was able to get a firsthand look at what is being done to treat water in the Philadelphia area. I participated in a tour of the Southwest Water Pollution Control Plant, managed by the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), viewing the processes that allow the plant to clean around 194 million gallons of wastewater per day.

There are the preliminary treatment processes, which remove the large debris like trash and rocks from the wastewater coming into the plant.  Then there is the removal of smaller particles like dirt and grit in a settling tank. And then, biological processes take over, as various kinds of bacteria and microorganisms go to work to consume the organic matter in the wastewater.  Finally, the water is disinfected (usually with chlorine or UV light) before it is discharged to a neighboring stream. The solids that were taken out of the water during the process are referred to as biosolids, which are usually disposed of in landfills, but can be land-applied as fertilizer.  Who knew all this happened to the water once it went down the drain in my house!  I was surprised by how large the plant was; there are so many processes to keep moving and monitor along the way.  And it wasn’t even that smelly most of the time!

The Southwest Water Pollution Control Plant was built in the early 1950’s, then expanded and renovated from 1975 to 1983 to ensure PWD met the requirements of the Clean Water Act.  This treatment plant is one of three of the PWD’s facilities that treat wastewater before it is discharged back into rivers and streams. 

Do you know where your water goes after you use it, and what happens to it along the way before it goes back into our rivers and streams?  Have you ever visited a wastewater treatment plant?  You can take a virtual tour of one of the largest plants by clicking here. http://www.dcwasa.com/about/model_flash.cfm

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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Taking Drinking Water to the Streets

By Christina Catanese

How many gallons of water do you think you use each day?

Do you think your water supply is safe?

Do you think there is enough water?

How might climate change impact water resources?

What could you do to influence your public water supply?

MOSdrinkingwater

These are the questions that we asked the public one day on the Independence Mall in Philadelphia!  A group of EPA employees including myself took to the streets to get your views on drinking water – and we found some interesting stuff.  Most people were surprised by how high the average amount of water use per person per day is.  I was somewhat taken aback by some of the responses  but I was given hope by the responses to others.

Watch this 3 minute video to see what our participants said, then tell us your answers in the comments section!

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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Great Chemistry

By Tom Damm

operator1Leslie Gryder of Lynchburg, Va., told her local paper she “felt like crawling under a rock” upon learning she was receiving EPA’s Mid-Atlantic award for excellence in operating a large public drinking water system.

But the spotlight-shy chemist was center stage when Bill Arguto, our region’s Drinking Water Branch Chief, presented her with the award during a ceremony attended by more than 30 people, including city and state officials.

Though largely unsung, water treatment plant operators are on the front lines in preventing waterborne diseases and protecting public health.   You can take this virtual tour of a drinking water plant to see how water is treated and sent to your home or business.  And kids can follow a drop of water from the source through the treatment process at this site.

Leslie Gryder has taken the job to a new level at Lynchburg’s water treatment plant.

“We don’t make this award every year.  If we didn’t think we had a candidate who was deserving, we wouldn’t give it,” Arguto said.

Leslie implemented new processes and procedures to keep the city’s drinking water safe and clean – even assisting neighboring systems in preventing and removing microbial contamination.

If you’re aware of steps your water treatment plant has taken to improve its operations, we’d like to hear about them.

About the Author: Tom Damm has been with EPA since 2002 and now serves as communications coordinator for the region’s Water Protection Division.  Prior to joining EPA, he held state government public affairs positions in New Jersey and worked as a daily newspaper reporter.  When not in the office, Tom enjoys cycling and volunteer work.  Tom and his family live in Hamilton Township, N.J., near Trenton.

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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