Water Education - Water and Health

Sources of Our Drinking Water

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Water is a vital element in each of our lives. Not only is it essential to our health, but also we use it for numerous household tasks. Every day we use water for cooking, bathing, cleaning, and drinking; but how often do we think about its source?

Where does our water come from? How is it treated? How do we know it is safe to drink? To answer these questions, it's important to go back to the basics. There are two main sources of water: surface water and groundwater. Surface Water is found in lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Groundwater lies under the surface of the land, where it travels through and fills openings in the rocks. The rocks that store and transmit groundwater are called aquifers. Groundwater must be pumped from an aquifer to the earth's surface for use.

Consumers receive their water from one of two sources: a private well, or a city water system. A household well pumps groundwater for household use. The source of a city water system may be either surface water or groundwater.

Private Household Wells

Approximately 14 percent of the U.S. population relies on individually owned and operated sources of drinking water, such as wells, cisterns, and springs. The majority of household wells are found in rural areas.

Those who receive their water from a private well are solely responsible for the safety of the water. Private wells are not subject to federal regulations and are generally regulated on a very limited basis by states. Local health departments may assist well owners with periodic testing for bacteria or nitrates, but the bulk of the responsibility for caring for the well falls on the good owner.

Since the good owner is primarily responsible for the water, it is important to know what poses a threat to the well and the groundwater which is its source. Well, water can become contaminated through a variety of sources.

Some contaminants occur in nature that may present a health risk if they are found in drinking water. These contaminants include bacteria, viruses, uranium, radium, nitrate, arsenic, chromium, and fluoride. Many of these contaminants are naturally present in rock formations, and consequently, end up in the water supply.

Other sources of contamination are a result of human activities such as manufacturing, agriculture, or individual misuse. The following activities may cause harmful chemicals to enter the well water owner's water supply.

  • Leakage from waste disposal, treatment, or storage sites.
  • Discharges from factories, industrial sites, or sewage treatment facilities.
  • Leaching from aerial or land application of pesticides and fertilizers on yards or fields.
  • Accidental chemical spills.
  • Leakage from underground storage tanks.
  • Improper disposal of household wastes such as cleaning fluids, paint, and motor oil.

Well owners generally disinfect or otherwise treat the water from their wells to remove the contaminants that are caused by such activities. As a private well owner, it is the best to make sure the water you consume is safe from harmful contaminants. Even though one might not be able to taste the difference for filtered water, but the difference in health would be revealed over time and it is non-reversible.

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