Benefits of Good Water Quality
Undestanding the effects of poor water quality can help you appreciate the benefits of good water quality.
Water and Health are Linked
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (better known as the CDC), the top causes of disease outbreaks related to drinking water are Giardia intestinalis, hepatitis A, norovirus, and Shigella. Bad as that sounds, it’s far from a complete list. There are also health risks related to water contaminated with organic and inorganic matter, other bacteria and viruses, and other pollutants.
Some studies link high levels of lead in drinking water to delays in physical and mental development, short attention spans, and learning difficulties in children. There’s also evidence that arsenic in drinking water can lead to nerve, heart, skin, and blodd vessel damage. And Cryptosporidium is responsible for potentially life-threatening diarrhea.
Still, water is essential. The human body is, after all, 70% water, and although a human being can survive a month or more without food, a week without water can be fatal.
Note: Yes, bad water is bad for you, but safe water is key to life – and good for you! Water has so many health benefits that CDC recomends drinking eight glasses of water a day. It is not hard to meet this, if you recognize that hydration can be achieved in various formats such as the water cooler at work, public drinking fountains, or the tap at home.
Good for Appliances, Too
Good water is good for your home and appliances, too. A 2009 study commissioned by the Water Quality Research Foundation (WQRF) and conducted by the Battelle Memorial Institute found that adding a water softener helps water heaters and major appliances operate as efficiently as possible, while preventing clogs in showerheads, faucets, and drains.
For example, researchers ran dishwashers and washing machines for 30 days and 240 wash cycles. They ran softened water through half of the units, while using a hard water source for the others. At the end of the month, the washers using softened water were nearly free of scale buildup, but the washers using hard water required scale removal to work well.
As for water heaters, the researchers found that when they used softened water, the units maintained their original factory efficiency rating for as long as 15 years. Running hard water through the units cut efficiency by up to 48%. Scale buildup shortened the lifespan of the heating elements inside electric water heaters, and some tankless water heaters using hard water failed after just 1.6 years!
The researchers found that showerheads performed well on soft water, but those running with hard water lost 75% of their flow rate in less than 18 months. When running hard water thorugh faucets, the strainers on the faucets clogged within 19 days.
Note: Softened water can save you money by keeping appliances at top efficieny, and making them last longer. The amount of dish and laundry detergent you use can be cut by half, or even more, if you see softened water. You can also lower wash temperatures from hot to cold without a drop in performance, according to two other independent studies.
Studies conducted by the independent test firm Scientific Services S/D, Inc., of New York, showed that using softened water can:
- Reduce detergent use by 50% in washing machines and save energy by making it possible to wash 60°F cold water instead of 100°F hot water, while achieving the same or even better stain removal along with whiter clothes.
- Achieve the same cleaning results in dishwashers while using less than half the detergent.
Note: Safe appliances, save money, and save the planet, too. If you’re using less energy to heat (softened) water, you’re reducing carbon footprint. And if you’re suing less detergent, that means less is going down the drain, reducing harm to the environment.
Water, water is everywhere. But is it good and safe to drink or use? How can you tell if the water in your home is healthy for you, your family, and for that prized front-loading washing machine? What can you do if your water doesn’t measure up? Read to find out.
- You drink and use water everyday (well, duh!), and you want that water to be clean and safe
- You have some say in ensuring the quality of your water – most likely, you’re a homeowner.
- You don’t want to earn a PhD in water quality – you just want to be able to turn on the tap and be confident in the H2O that comes out.
Diagnose your Water
There are many ways to find out what’s in your water and whether it’s safe. Below are tips.
TIP: Your first diagnostic tools are your senses. You can, at times, see, taste, smell, and feel contaminated water.
Use your eyes
When artists show water in landscape scenes, they often make it blue or blue-green. But you wouln’t want water that colour coming out of your tap. Quality water, when you view it up close, is clear and colorless.
Note: Water that is red, orange, yellow, brown, or cloudy san signal iron, rust, or other contaminants in the mains or your household plumbing. Tannis from decaying vegetation and leave can also give water a yellow or brownish hue.
Manganese may make water appear brown, red orange, yellow, or even black. Iron may give it a reddish-orange cast, or it might even have a yellow, tealike appearance.
Like that scenic painting or photo, water might have blue or green in it. That may indicate the presence of copper, possibly coming from corroded plumbing. You might also see blue or green water if there’s corrosion of the bronze alloys in pumps and valves, a sign that there also may be zinc in the water.
TIP: If your water has these issues, try to identify the source. Consider these tips for sleuthing.
Contamination from water mains will most likely show up in these three ways:
- Clear water suddenly becomes discolored
- Cold water looks discolored but hot water looks clear
- Discoloration from faucets continues even after the water has been running for a few minutes.
Or, if the issue comes from your home plumbing, there are two ways that it will reveal itself:
- There’s discoloration after the water hasn’t been run for a few hours
- The water runs clear after a few minutes
Follow your nose, trust your tongue
Stinky or bad-tasting water are signs of impurities. Here are common water odor or taste problems you might encounter:
- A rotten-egg or sulfur smell or taste suggests the presence of hydrogen sulfide. That’s often caused by a certain type of bacteris in the water. Sulfates can also cause the water to taste salty. Investigate further to pinpoint the source, such as bacteria growing in drains, water heaters, wells, or on the inside the pipes.
- Musty, earthy odors and tastes may signal dissolved solids. Such aromas and tastes may be caused by decaying organic matter in the plumbing or even in the source water itself.
- Then there’s the smell and taste of chlorine. It’s there for disinfection to make water safer to drink and originates during the normal chlorination treatment process, but to enjoy the taste you may want to get rid of it.
- If water smells or tastes like turpentine or other chemical (yikes!) that might indicate the presence of MTBE (short for methyl tertiary butyl ether) or xylenes, byproducts of gasoline refining, paints, detergents, or inks.
- Metallic smells and tastes may be a sign of mercury, lead, copper, arsenic, or iron in the water. Manganese and zinc may also cause a metallic smell or taste. These chemicals may come from the pipes themselves.
Diagnosing stains and deposits
It isn’t just the water that can be discolored. Discoloration of surfaces can also be a sign of impurities.
Got bathtub rings or white scale, spots on dishesand cutlery, or deposits on clothes coming out of the wash? Those are signs of hard water or excess total dissolved solids (experts call these TDS for short) in your water. The biggest culprits in hard water are calcium (limestone) and magnesium. TDS can include all minerals, salts, or metals dissolved in water, and might include plant material.
How Pure is Pure?
Your water isn’t just molecules made up of two parts hydrogen to one part oxygen, or H2O. Pure water is a relative term because almost all the water you’ll encounter contains minerals, impurities, contaminants, and microorganisms. These substances may be present in incredibly tiny amounts, and they don’t necessarily have negative health impacts. Some of them might impart the flavor you expect from water – if you drank H2O, you might not even like it.
Remember: Knowing your household water has stuff in it besides just plain H2O, the USEPA has created standards that enable water to be classified as potable water, even if it does have traces of other elements in it. Of course, these standards require that the water be free of disease-causing microbes, and also require it to be clear, palatable, odorless, noncorrosive, and free of any other objectionable particles or gases.
Water gains other ingredients in many ways. Acid rain, industrial waste dumping, runoff from storms, and pesticides can contaminate surface water. Contaminants may come from older combined sanitary/storm sewer systems that overflow during wet weather. Groundwater might be contaminated by chemicals leaching into soil from landfills, sepctic systems, or improper disposal of agricultural or household chemicals.
Remember: Water can become impure after it leaves a treatment facility, and it can even pick up some additives from the facility itself.
Most municipalities add chemicals such as fluoride, chlorine, or chloramines to treated water, to help protect your teeth and to keep the water free from harmful germs of its way to your tap.
Beyond that, silt, desiment, and other minerals can build up inside water mains and household plumbing. When a water main breaks, or is repaired or replaced, it’s possible for silt, sediment and microorganisms to enter the system. Sediment can also build up in your own hot water tank, introducing more contamination. Corrosion of pipes can add metals such as lead and copper to water.
What’s in your Water?
Why is lead in drinking water?
Exposure to lead from drinking water is less common than other pathways yet, but can have serious consequences. Lead can enter drinking water when service lines, pipes in the home and other plumbing fixtures, or solder that contain lead corrode. Older homes, especially those built before 1986, are more likely to have lead service lines, fixtures and solder. However, even newer “lead-free” fixtures could contain up to eight percent lead until 2013.
Lead, unlike any other drinking water contaminants, is usually not present in the drinking water source, but rather results from the distribution system or on site plumbing itself. Lead gets into water at the tap when water with “corrosive” chemistry comes into contact with lead in pipes, fixtures, and solder, CLEAN WATER ACTION, 2018.
Water Quality Tips
Keep you Water Filters Clean
If you have a filter to remove contaminants, maintain it according to the manufacturer’s specifications. This might include cleaning it, replacing filter cartridges, and sometimes calling a professional for service. Filters overdue for cleaning or replacing may no longer work properly to remove contaminants and may let foul tastes and odours remain in your tap water.
Wash water containers regularly
You can have the best water treatment in the world, but if you put clean water into a dirty container, it may no longer be safe or palatable to drink. It’s critical to properly and regularly clean water containers, from household pitchers to water bottles.
TIP: Mix a few drops of dish detergent into clean water and pour into the storage container. Agitate the liquid, and scrub the inside with a nonabrasive scrub brush or a clean dish rag, then rinse the container throughly. If you want to achieve a higher level of cleanliness, disinfect the container with a mixture of unscented chlorine bleach and water. Mix it according to instructions on the bottle, and then swish the mixture around inside the container to ensure that it hits every surface. Leave the mixture inside the container for 30 minutes, and then throughly rinse with tap water.
Maintain your water softener
TIP: A typical water softener uses resin beads to capture hardness ions, and periodically uses salt to cleanse the beads and prepare the unit to remove more hardness ions. If you have a basic system, check salt levels at least once a month; it’s easy to do. Just lift the tank lid and look inside; if the tank is less than half full, add more salt.
The invisible contaminants
It’s bad enough to be able to see, smell, or taste a contaminant. But what if your water looks, smells, and tastes just fine – is it? Not necessarily.
Microbial and organic contamination
Microbial and organic contaminants aren’t always seen, smelled or tasted. You might go years before realizing a problem exists. Many folks never become suspicious unit people in the community start to get sick.
WARNING! Although some waterborne microbes can cause illness, many microbes are harmless or even benefitial. Very small levels of microbes are naturally present in many water supplies, but some are more dangerous than others. Some of the more dangerous microbial contaminants, such as E.coli, Giardia, and Cryptosporidium, can cause gastrointestinal problems and flulike symptoms commonly attributed to undercook or improperly stored food.
Remember: To kill or remove these microbes, water treatment facilities often use chlorination. Problem is, disinfection chemicals such as chlorine are reactive and can combine with other substances in water, such as natural organic chemicals and bromide compounds, to form hazardous byproducts such as bromate, chlorite, haloacetic acids (HAA5), and trihalomethanes (you might hear them described as total trihalomethanes or TTHM). The USEPA says that long-term exposure to this hazardous chemicals can increase the risk of illnesses such as cancer and anemia, along with liver, kidney, and central nervous system problems.
WARNING! Water near agricultural areas may contain harmful organic material from pesticide or fertilizer application. Chemicals from pestisides and fertilizers in water may increase cancer risk and reproductive problems, and can impair eye, liver, kidney, and other body functions. Similar problems can result from exposure to water near industrial plants.
Inorganic and mineral substances
There are still more possible pollutants in water. These include:
- Nitrates and nitrites: Sometimes found in small amounts in well water in agricultural areas; they can make infants and others ill
- Arsenic: A natural well water contaminant thought to contribute to skin damage, circulatory system issues, and increased cancer risk
- Lead: From some plumbing fixtures and pipes, and known to impair physical and mental development in children, contribute to kidney disease, and cause high blood pressure in adults
- Mercury: Usually from industrial pollution, possibly contributing to kidney damage and more
WARNING! At low levels typically found in water, these substances are invisible, odorless, and tastelss, but nevertheless harmful.
Remember: The USEPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act requires municipalities to test water supplies once, twice, or several times per year, depending on the potential contaminants and the size of the population served. But just because the water has been tested, you can’t necessarily assume that all is well.
The Safe Drinking Water Information System produces a report titled Annual Public Water System Statistics. The report cites thousands of violations across the country, violations that affect millions of people each year. Likewise, the CDC reports that outbreaks caused by water quaility issues lead to more than 4,000 illneses every year. More than half of these illnesses were related to untreated water or inadequately treated ground water, says the CDC.
WARNING! Water that leaves the treatment facility can be contaminated by the time it shows up at your tap.
Municipalities don’t continuously monitor water pipesthat transport water to homes.
Also, in some cases, home well water hasn’t been tested in years, possibly not sice the well became active. No standards govern testing of private well water. There are rules in certain places – some states or the USEPA recommed annual testing, and in some cases require testing when a home or business is sold. Otherwise, private well water quality is undefined and unmonitored.
What is water?
Water is a molecule called H2O that contains two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. It’s a transparent, odorless, tasteless liquid that you can find in lakes, rivers, and oceans. It falls from the sky as rain or snow.
Water is bottled and sold commercially, but it is also a key ingredient in thousands of products, from lotions and cosmetics to cleaners and beverages.
How Water Gets to Your Home or Business
Typically, pipes bring the water supply from a facility that treats the water to your home or business. A well built and maintained distribution system of pipes helps ensure its quality. Another format to provide water specific for drinking to a home or business, would be the installation of a water cooler or the delivery of bottled water.
Treating the water
Water treatment involves disinfecting and purifying untreated ground and surface water. The purpose of a public or private water treatment facility is to make water potable – that is to say, safe to drink – as well as palatable – good tasting. The facility also ensures that there’s an adequate suppply of water to meet the community’s needs.
Given that many people think of water as something they use to clean other things, how exactly is water itself cleaned through water treatment? Raw and untreated water is obtained from an undergorund aquifer (usually through wells) or from a surface water source, such as a lake or river. It is pumped, or flows, to a treatment facility.
Once there, the water is pretreated to remove debris such as leaves and silt. Then, a sequence of treatment processes – including filtration and disinfection with chemicals or physicals processes – eliminates disease – causing microorganisms. It’s a highly complex process, and you’ll be glad to know that it’s closely monitored for quality control. When the treatment is complete, water flows out into the community through a network of pipes and pumps that are commonly referred to as the distribution system.
What’s the difference between public and private water facilities? Public, municipal systems are owned and operated by the cities or towns they serve, and they’re typically under the management of a mayor or other elected official. Private systems range from individual wells serving a single household, to small corporate associations that provide water to a small group of homes, or to large corporations that have their own water service divisions. Whether public or private, all U.S water utilities that serve more than 25 people adhere to water quality standards established by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) as well as state and local regulations. Which means that the homeowner who serves more than 25 individuals bears the full responsability for ensuring water quality.
A well is a strategically placed access point drilled into an aquifer, combined with a pump to withdraw the water and a basic filtering or screening system.
Trough your pipes to the faucet
Whether your water is coming in from a treatment plant across town or the well in your backyard, the final step to access clean water is your home plumbing. If you’re connected to municipal water, there’s usually a main valve installed where the main line from the distribution system enters the home.
Water from a bottle
Bottled water is popular. Studies suggest that half of all Americans drink bottled water from time to time, and about a third consume it regularly. As with tap water, the source of bottled water is usually a municipal water system or a natural spring, and from there it may go through additional purification. As a packaged product, bottled water is regulated under the guidelines of the U.S Food and Drug Administration (USFDA).
Where Does Water Come From?
If you’re fortunate, water is all around you, in just the right amounts and in the right places. But it didn’t just get there by magic. Ultimately, fresh water is the result of the Earth’s water or hydrologic cycle. Basically, the sun’s heat causes surface water to evaporate. It rises in the atmosphere, then cools and condenses to form clouds. When enough water condenses, it falls back to the surface again as rain, sleet, or snow. The process repeats itself in a never-ending cycle.
The water we consume and use every day comes from two main sources: groundwater and surface water. Other sources such as snow melt, rain, and recycled wastewater have only limited use, but they’re getting more attention these days because of water scarity issues in dry climates. Just 1 percent of all water is accesible.
Water from the ground
When rain water or melting snow seeps into the ground, it collects in undergound pockets called aquifiers, which store the groundwater and form the water table, another name for the highest level of water that an aquifer can hold. Water levels can reach the water table or fall well below it depending on such factors as rainfall, drought, or the rate at which the water is being used. Groundwater usually comes from aquifers through a drilled well or natural spring.
Water in the surface
Surface water flows through or collects in streams, rivers, lakes, reservoirs, and oceans – and not underground like groundwater. Surface water can be beautiful, even pristine-looking, but most of it isn’t directly fit for drinking. Fully 97% is found in the oceans and can’t be used for drinking because of its salt content. The other 3% of water is fresh, and most of that is locked up in ice or glaciers.
Counting Your Gallons
How much water do you use? If you’re a typical U.S. resident, the answer is between 80 and 100 gallons every day. If that sounds like a lot, consider that the total includes not just drinking water, but also the water you use for washing, watering your lawn and garden, and waste disposal.
Quenching your thirst
Of all the water you use, you don’t drink that much – people actually drink less than 1% of the water coming into their homes. The rest goes for other purposes.
Gettting stuff (and you) clean
Water is the universal solvent, because given enough time it can dissolve nearly anything. That means it’s great for cleaning, and explains why so much of our water usage is involved in ashing one thing or another (or ourselves)
Quenching your plans’ thirst
If you have a big yard or a thirsty vegetable garden, you probably already know that watering can really run up your water bill, especially in hot, dry climates.
Water down the drain
Flush a modern toilet and you just used about 1.6 galons. Got an older toilet? The usage can be as much as 5 gallons per flush.
The Bottom Line
Unless you have your own well, you’re likely to have to pay something for the water use. A typical U.S. household pays about $1.50 per 1000 gallons, or $0.00015 per gallon. For a family of four using 100 gallons per person each day, that adds up to about $18 per month. Some places are more or less expensive, though.
Bottled water has a higher price tag, although it may be preferred for business or homes that want a low maintenance source of quality drinking water. According to the Beverage Marketing Corp., the wholesale cost of domestic, nonsparkling bottled drinking water was $1.21 per gallon in 2011. Drinking water sold in 20-ounces bottles may cost more than $6 per gallon.
Also, many homeowners have to pay for sewage (water that leaves the home). In the U.S., the average monthly cost for sewage is $84 a month, but depeding on the city, it can range from less than $15 to more than $200.