Drinking Water Q & A

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Health

Is my water safe to drink? Tap water from public water systems in the United States and Canada is among the safest in the world, and maintaining that quality is a priority for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), Health Canada and public water utilities.

Is potable water the same as safe water? When it is safe to drink, water is called potable. Water is considered safe to drink if it meets or exceeds all of the federal, state, and provincial standards that are legally enforceable

Is tap water safer in one area of a community as compared with another? Rarely. All the tap water from public water supplies must meet all federal, state or provincial requirements. In communities with a single source, everyone receives the same water.

If flushing drugs down the toilet causes environmental problems, how should I dispose of unwanted medication? Where available, take medications to a hazardous waste collection site or take-back program at a pharmacy or medical care facility. Before taking any controlled substance to a collection event, however, check to find out if the site is authorized to accept the material.

Are all chemicals in my drinking water bad for me? No. Some chemicals are good for you, and some minerals are accepted by most to be beneficial in drinking water, such as fluoride at proper levels. In addition, many chemicals are necessary to improve the quality of the water, and these should have no effect on your health.

How much water does one person use each day? Most people in the United States drink about a half-gallon of water per day. The U.S. average is nearly 160 gallons used each day per person for all home uses. Water uses include lawn irrigation and washing clothes and dishes, toilets, showers and baths.

Where do I find my home's master valve?

a. Where the water supply enters your home

b. Near your clothes-washer hookup

c. Near your water heater

How can I tell if I have leaks in my home plumbing system?

a. Checking your water meter before and after a two-hour period when no water is being used. If the meter changes at all, you probably have a leak

b. Identifying toilet leaks by placing a drop of food coloring in the toilet tank. If any color shows up in the bowl before you flush, you have a leak.

c. Examining faucet gaskets and pipe fitting for any water on the outside of the pipe to check for surface leaks.

What is "hard" water? Hardness in drinking water is caused by calcium and magnesium, two nontoxic, naturally occurring minerals in water. If calcium or magnesium is present in your water in substantial amounts, the water is said to be hard because lathering soap for washing is difficult to do, and cleaning with hard water is inefficient. Water containing little calcium or magnesium is called soft water and is better for laundering and other purposes.

What household chemicals can I safely pour down the sink or into the toilet?

a. Aluminum cleaners

b. Ammonia-based cleaners

c. Drain cleaners

d. Window cleaners

e. Alcohol-based lotions

f. Bathrooms cleaners

g. Depilatories

h. Hair relaxers

i. Permanent lotions

j. Toilet bowl cleaners

k. Tub and tile cleaners

l. Water-based glues

m. Paintbrush cleaners with trisodium phosphate

n. Lye-based paint strippers

o. Other wastes should be disposed of by following your local municipality's hazardous waste collection process

How do I safely dispose of pharmaceuticals?

a. Take unused, unneeded or expired prescription drugs out of their original containers and throw them in the trash.

b. Mix prescription drugs with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, and put them in impermeable, nondescript containers, such as empty cans or sealable bags, to further ensure the drugs are not diverted.

c. Flush prescription drugs down the toilet only if the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs doing so.

d. Take advantage of community pharmaceutical take-back programs that allow the public to bring unused drugs to a central location for proper disposal.

e. Take medications with attached needles to hospitals or other approved sites for proper disposal.

Where does my drinking water come from? Drinking water comes from two major sources: Water that flows aboveground, known as surface water, and water that is pumped from beneath the ground, called groundwater. Surface water comes from lakes, reservoirs and rivers. Groundwater comes from wells that water suppliers drill into aquifers - underground geologic formations of permeable rock. The majority of people in the United States - 66 % - live in areas served by large water systems that rely on surface water. However, 80% percent of public water systems are in smaller communities that rely on groundwater.

How does nature recycle water? The processes of evaporation, condensation, precipitation and infiltration - the hydrologic cycle.

Can groundwater be restored in any other way than the natural cycle? Yes. Some water suppliers have adopted a system call groundwater recharge. This is often done in large basins where volumes of water spread over the treated wastewater, diverted river water, surface runoff or other excess water. This reused of excess water can also be returned to the aquifer through direct injection into recharge wells.

How much of the Earth is covered with water, and how much of that is drinkable? Close to three-quarters of Earth's surface is covered with water, but less than 1 percent is suitable and available for drinking water using conventional water treatment.

Can ocean water be treated to make drinking water? Ocean water contains so much salt that at least 99.2 percent of the salt must be removed to avoid a salty taste in drinking water, but it can be treated to make drinking water through a process called desalination.

Can wastewater be treated to make it into drinking water? Yes. This practice, called potable reuse, is uncommon, but is gaining more and more acceptance around the world because of water supply limitations. The water industry commonly uses the terms reclaimed wastewater and reuse for nonpotable purposes such as park irrigation, which saves fresh water for drinking and bathing.

Is climate change affecting our water supply? Water industry researchers tell us that climate change has significant implications for water supply management because increasing temperatures will increase evaporation rates, change precipitation patterns, affect runoff and water quality and change water-use demands.

How can I help prevent pollution of drinking water sources?

a. Keeping litter; pet wastes, leaves and debris out of street gutters and storm drains.

b. Applying lawn and garden chemicals sparingly and according to directions.

c. Disposing of used oil, antifreeze, paints and other household chemicals properly, not in storm sewers or drains. Ask about your community household hazardous waste collection program.

d. Cleaning up spilled brake fluid, oil, grease and antifreeze. Do not hose them into the street where they can eventually reach local streams and lakes.

e. For more information visit www.epa.gov/nps, http://www.groundwater.org/, http://www.lgean.org/.

Conservation

What indoor home activity uses the most water? Inside the home, water use is evenly distributed among appliances, but nearly 30 percent is flushed down the toilet. A typical household of four uses 400 gallons of water per day. Clothes washing accounts for 26 percent, followed by showers at 20 percent and faucets (washing dishes, brushing teeth, etc.) at 19 percent.

What about outside use - how can I conserve water there?

a. Maintain a lawn height of 2 ½ to 3 inches to help protect the roots from heat stress and reduce the loss of moisture to evaporation.

b. Promote deep root growth through proper watering, aerating, fertilization, grass-clipping control and attention to lawn height. A lawn with deep roots requires less water and is more resistant to drought and disease.

c. Avoid planting turf in areas that are difficult to irrigate properly, such as steep inclines and isolated strips along sidewalks and driveways.

d. Aerate clay soils at least once a year to help the soil retain moisture.

e. Mulch around plants, bushes and trees to help the soil retain moisture, discourage the growth of weeds and provide essential nutrients.

f. Plant in the spring or fall, when watering requirement are lower.

g. When choosing plants, keep in mind that smaller ones require less water to become established.

h. Use porous materials for walkways and patios to keep water in your yard and prevent wasteful runoff.

i. Use an adjustable hose nozzle for plant irrigation, and be sure to shut water off at the house connection each time an exterior faucet is used.

j. Use a broom or rake to remove debris from driveways and walkways, not water.

k. If you have a pool, keep the water level low to minimize splashing, and use a cover to slow evaporation. An average-sized pool can lose about 1,000 gallons of water per month if left uncovered.

l. Use a bucket of soapy water and a hose with a shutoff nozzle to wash your car.

Which uses more water, a bath or a shower? A full bathtub requires about 70 gallons of water, while taking a five-minute shower under a low-flow showerhead uses 10 to 25 gallons. Don't run water down the drain while it heats up

We had a conservation drive in our area and everyone cooperated. Then our water rates went up. Why? Water suppliers have fixed costs - salaries, hydrant maintenance, mortgages and so forth. They must collect this money regardless of water use, so when water volume goes down because of conservation by the public, the cost of each gallon of water used sometimes is raised to provide the water supplier with the money it needs to maintain its system. However, water conservation can eventually lead to stable improvements or new investments can be postponed if demand does not increase.

I leave the water running while I brush my teeth. Does this waste much water? Yes. Leaving the water running is a bad habit; about 4 to 6 gallons of water go down the drain every time you brush. The average bathroom faucet runs at a rate of about 2 gallons a minute. Turning of f the water will save water and save you money.

I use a lot of water in the kitchen. How can I conserve there?

a. Remove residue from each cooking utensil and dish without using water and don't rinse them before putting in the dishwasher.

b. Clean vegetables in a pan of water rather than under running tap water, then us that water to give your plants a drink.

c. Use the garbage disposal sparingly.

d. Run the dishwasher only when it is full.

e. Keep a container of water in the refrigerator instead of running the tap to cool your drinking water.

f. Use a pail or basin instead of running water for household cleaning. A sponge mop will use less water than a string mop.

g. Presoak grills or oven parts overnight when they need cleaning. Wash with an abrasive scrub brush or pad and use plenty of "elbow grease" to minimize water use.

How concerned should I be about a leaky toilet? A leaky toilet can waste as much as 200 gallons of water a day. A common reason toilets leak is that the toilet flapper has become worn and no longer seals closed once the toilet has filled.

Why do we still have a water shortage when it's been raining at my house? It takes weeks to years for the water to recycle from rain to home use, depending on your water source. If your drinking water that comes from a well, the rainwater needs to recharge into the ground before it affects the supply. If it comes from a reservoir or surface source, the supply may be far upstream from the rain at your house, so the water source isn't being replenished.

During water shortages, shouldn't decorative fountains be turned off? In most cases, fountain water is re-circulated (used over and over) and is not wasted. If water losses from evaporation are high, however, fountains should be turned off.