What Are the Best Sources of Drinking Water?
Here’s what to know about good drinking water.
If you don’t live in the New York City area, you might be surprised to learn that the big, crowded, congested city has some of the purest and safest drinking water in the world. That’s because it’s invested millions of dollars in protecting its drinking water, which comes from a system of reservoirs stretching up to 125 miles north of the city.
New Yorkers know they can just turn on the tap and drink clean, clear water. But how do you know if your own tap water is safe and fit to drink? And if it isn’t, what should you do? Buy bottled water? Put in a water filter? Invest in a purified water system?
Every municipality’s water is different, because they’re all coming from different sources. New York’s pure reservoir system requires less treatment and filtration than, say, Washington, D.C.’s water, which comes from the less-than-sparkling Potomac River.
“For the most part in the U.S., the water coming out of the tap is very likely to be safe. It’s highly unlikely that you’ll get sick from it. It does happen sometimes, but it’s rare,” says Jim Karrh, formerly the chief marketing officer for the Mountain Valley Spring bottled water company.
That’s not to say that there are no problems. A 2005 report from the Environmental Working Group found more than 140 contaminants with no enforceable safety limits in the nation’s drinking water.
To know for sure what’s in your tap water and where it’s coming from, contact your local water utility. The Environmental Protection Agency requires all water suppliers to issue an annual report to their customers, called a Consumer Confidence Report. Learn more:
- Look for your water report on the EPA’s local drinking water information page at www.epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo/index.html. If it’s not posted there, call your water company and ask for a copy.
- From the same site, you can read “Envirofacts” reports for your area, which will tell you if your supplier has been cited for violating EPA standards.
- Find out how to read and understand your water report with a guide from NSF International, a standard-setting and product certification organization for food, water, and consumer goods. You can download the guide at www.nsf.org/consumer/drinking_water/dw_quality.asp?program=WaterTre.
- Check the Environmental Working Group’s database on drinking water contamination at www.ewg.org/tapwater/yourwater/index.php.
But the EPA and your water bureau can only tell you about the quality of the water when it gets to your house.
“They don‘t know what kind of building you live in and what pipes you have,” Karrh says. “The majority of pipe systems are just fine, but I have had plumbers tell me about going into renovated buildings and it’s pretty gunky in there. It’s probably not something to worry about unless you have medical conditions or a reason to be suspicious, like a really old piping system.”
If you’re worried, order a do-it-yourself water testing kit online or arrange for a water quality test from a water filtration company.