Where Can Tap Water Go Wrong?
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Where Can Tap Water Go Wrong?

Thanks to modern technology, almost any source can be treated and turned into potable water. Municipalities in the U.S. do an excellent job of ensuring we have clean water; it’s what happens in our own pipes and faucets that may concern you.

Let's start with the good news, though — the magic of tech? Take Wichita Falls, Texas, which is in an extreme drought, one that the 100,000-person city anticipated a few years in advance. Most of Wichita Falls’ water, historically, comes from a nearby lake (Lake Arrowhead, if you’d like to Google it), but the lake has been under 25% capacity in recent years. To keep water flowing, the Wichita Falls government has implemented water rationing, banned outdoor watering (sorry, gardens and lawns), and considered cloud seeding. Unfortunately, the extreme drought called for more extreme measures.

How extreme? Wichita Falls began a program where sewage is treated and returned to households as potable water. It may sound unappealing, but it can even be cleaner than other sources, according to a blog post by University of Texas professor Desmond F. Lawler. He says better technology produces cleaner water:

“Simply put, if you want to drink very clean water, direct potable reuse will likely provide higher quality water than many drinking water plants currently produce now. Why? Because those slow, natural river processes will be replaced by highly engineered, well-monitored, advanced treatment processes that remove contaminants much better.”

If there’s a problem, then it’s not from the municipal source — even if the source is providing you with the recycled sewage water. Most likely, the problem is under or within your house.

Take lead for example. The EPA notes that lead “is commonly used in household plumbing materials and water service lines,” the latter being the pipes that connect your house to the municipal system. Although overall levels of lead exposure are low, EPA “estimates that 10 to 20 percent of human exposure to lead may come from lead in drinking water” and that “infants who consume mostly mixed formula can receive 40 to 60 percent of their exposure to lead from drinking water.” Other contaminants can leach from pipes, fittings, and faucets to cause health problems too, such as cadmium from galvanized pipe fittings and faucets, copper from water lines, and vinyl chloride from PVC pipes.

So in other words, if you’re in the U.S. at least, don’t worry about where you water comes from — worry, instead, about what happens once it enters your control. Because if there’s a problem, that’s where it is most likely to be. Fortunately, the solution is simple too. You can have your tap water tested, or you can use a filter to remove contaminants before drinking, cooking and brushing your teeth.


Dan Lewis
Dan Lewis writes the free trivial email newsletter Now I Know. His second book, Now I Know More, is now available