“How do I find out what’s in my water glass?”
According to U. S. law, every citizen is entitled to a straight answer. Every city is required to publish reports about the safety and quality of its drinking water system. The problem as NRDC (National Resources Defense Council) found, is that while some cities do a good job with their right-to-know reports, others publish information that is incomplete or misleading:
Reports from Atlanta, Boston, Fresno, Houston, Newark, Phoenix, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. included false, unqualified or misleading claims, or buried crucial information about problems deep in their reports.
Reports from Newark, New Orleans, and Phoenix included incorrect or misleading data – or omitted it entirely.
Nearly all cities in the study failed to report on health effects of most contaminants found in their water.
Most of the cities studied failed to translate the reports into languages spoken by a large minority in their community.
These right-to-know reports hold enormous promise. They not only inform citizens about the state of their water system’s report, they can also build community support for investment and encourage citizens to participate in fixing local problems. They are so important that NRDC decided to grade each city’s right-to-know reports as part of this study; they also included a set of recommendations that cities might adopt in setting goals for their right-to-know reports.
B.Source Water Protection
Protecting the Source.
The first line of defense in ensuring the safety and quality of drinking water is to ensure that water sources – lakes, rivers, streams, and aquifers (porous underground formations that hold water) – are protected from pollution. As indicated in part 1 of this study, there are many ways that contaminants get into source water, among them:
Polluted runoff from storm water or snowmelt in urban and suburban areas
Pesticides and fertilizers from agricultural fields
Animal waste from feedlots and farms
Industrial pollution from factories
Hazardous waste sites
Spills and leaks of petroleum products and industrial chemicals
“Natural” contamination such as arsenic or radon that occurs in water as a result of leaching or release of the contaminant from rock.
To keep such contaminants out of tap water, a city’s first step is identifying where pollution is coming from. Once these sources are known, the water utility, city and/or county planners and citizens of a municipality must work together to figure out how to reduce the threat of contamination. Land purchases often prove useful, allowing the water utility to establish a pollution-free zone around source waters. Utilities may also ban boating and other recreational activities on these waters, push for improved pollution controls, or protect wetlands (which replenish and purify source waters).
Some cities are doing a fine job of protecting their drinking water supply. Seattle is doing an excellent job of protecting source water; Boston, San Francisco, and Denver also get high marks. But many other cities have a long way to go:
Albuquerque’s groundwater is becoming seriously depleted; Fresno’s groundwater is highly susceptible to contamination.
In Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Newark, Philadelphia, Phoenix, San Diego, and Washington, D.C., source water is threatened by runoff and industrial or sewage contamination.
Baltimore, Fresno, Los Angeles, New Orleans, San Diego and several other cities are vulnerable to agricultural pollution containing nitrogen, pesticides, or sediment.
Denver’s source water challenge is also debris from wildfires & sediments from floods.
Manchester’s problems come from recreational boating activity in its reservoir.
C.What Can We Do?
An informed, involved public is a water utility’s strongest ally in an effort to better protect its water supply. NRDC recommends that citizens urge legislators not to pull the plug on safe water supplies, and Congress should act to strengthen the laws and contaminant standards we have in place to protect the purity and safety of our drinking water. Educate yourself about the highest quality water filtration systems like Berkey.