Clean drinking water is essential to health and well-being. Although most homes in the United States benefit from a full supply of clean drinking water, it can be easy to underestimate the resources and effort that go into ensuring that you and your family always have enough water to drink. Here are some facts about water quality that may surprise you.
A high percentage of supplies are polluted
Drinking water supplies are under continuous pressure from a variety of sources, and you may be surprised to learn just how few supposedly natural water sources remain available. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), nearly half (44 percent) of streams assessed for water quality are identified as not being clean enough for fishing or swimming. More than 60 percent of assessed lakes are equally unclean, along with 30 percent of estuary bay miles. That greatly reduces the amount of water available for supplies.
There are a number of key pollutants
There are a host of different pollutants in the drinking water supply, and these have to be removed before the water is safe enough for you to drink. Bacteria, mercury, phosphorus and nitrogen are all common pollutants. According to the EPA, low levels of dissolved oxygen in water supplies can be caused by organic material decomposing in the water. Two leading sources of these pollutants are agricultural runoff (that is, chemicals used in agriculture, which then contaminate the water supply) and modifications to the country's natural hydrology (that is, where rivers and streams are diverted or channeled).
Urban areas impact on the supply of clean water
The increase of urbanized areas in towns and cities is having a marked impact on water supplies. Water supplies rely on the ability of rainwater to reach underground water supplies, and urbanized areas can greatly impede this process. The EPA states that in a natural environment, 50 percent of the rainfall is absorbed, and just 10 percent runs off. In an urbanized environment, just 15 percent is absorbed, and 55 percent runs off. This can cause significant problems elsewhere, because all that water has to go somewhere.
Water supplies are carefully regulated
The EPA sets strict standards and regulations around the control of drinking water, which ensure that ground water and surface water levels are protected and that drinking water is fit for human consumption. The EPA's National Primary Drinking Water Regulations outline a list of contaminants and the maximum contaminant level permitted by law. These contaminants include microorganisms, disinfectants and other chemicals. You can review the guidelines to understand the potential risks of these contaminants, as well as the most common sources of these contaminants in your drinking water.
Bottled water may be no better than tap water
The bottled water industry is thriving as health-conscious individuals look for ways to increase their intake of drinking water. There are, however, no conclusive scientific studies that prove that the quality of bottled water is any better than that of tap water. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is responsible for regulating the quality of bottled water and maintains comparable water quality regulations to the EPA's.
It is worth noting that not all bottled water is the same. Some bottled water is, in fact, derived from the same source as tap water. Bottled water may be a good choice, in terms of convenience, but it may be no better or worse than tap water when it comes to quality.