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The importance of water quality and testing

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The U.S. has one of the safest water supplies in the world. Over 90% of Americans get their tap water from community water systems, which are subject to safe drinking water standards. The other 10% includes water from private wells, which a lot of rural homeowners depend on for their water needs.

Drinking water quality varies from place to place, depending on the condition of the source water from which it is drawn and the treatment it receives, but it must meet U.S. EPA regulations. Community water systems follow the rules set forth by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Many states enforce their own drinking water standards that are at least as protective as EPA’s national standards. The SDWA rules include guidelines for drinking water quality, water testing schedules and water testing methods.

August is National Water Quality Month

Even though U.S. tap water supplies are considered to be among the safest in the world, water contamination can still occur. There are many possible sources of contamination, including:

  • Sewage releases
  • Naturally occurring chemicals and minerals (for example, arsenic, radon, uranium)
  • Local land use practices (for example, fertilizers, pesticides, livestock, concentrated feeding operations)
  • Manufacturing processes (for example, heavy metals, cyanide)
  • Malfunctioning on-site wastewater treatment systems (for example, septic systems)

In addition, drinking water that is not properly treated or that travels through an improperly maintained distribution system (pipes) may also create conditions that increase risk of contamination.

When water system officials find an issue with the drinking water supply (for example, that it has become contaminated), a water advisory may be issued to help protect the public’s health.

The presence of certain contaminants in our water can lead to health issues, including gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems and neurological disorders. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems may be especially at risk for illness.

Private Ground Water Wells

Many people receive their water from private ground water wells. EPA regulations that protect public drinking water systems do not apply to privately owned wells. As a result, owners of private wells are responsible for ensuring that their water is safe from contaminants. Here you may find information on the basics of wells, proper methods of siting and location for wells, all about testing and how often to test a well, proper treatment of wells and maintenance of wells, information on well retirementcommon diseases and contaminants associated with wellsemergency treatment of wells and answers to frequently asked questions about wells.

Ground Water & Wells

When rain falls, much of it is absorbed into the ground. Water that’s not used by plants moves downward through pores and spaces in the rock until it reaches a dense layer of rock. The water trapped below the ground in the pores and spaces above the dense rock barrier is called ground water, and this is the water we get when we drill wells. Another common term for ground water is “aquifer” or “ground water aquifer.”

Over 15 million U.S. households rely on private wells for drinking water. All private wells use ground water. If polluted ground water is consumed, it could cause illness. Ground water pollution can be caused by seepage through landfills, failed septic tanks, underground fuel tanks, fertilizers and pesticides and runoff from more developed areas. It’s important that private ground water wells are checked regularly to ensure the water is safe for drinking.

Today, private water systems that serve no more than 25 people at least 60 days of the year and have no more than 15 service connections are not regulated by the EPA.

Water Testing

The EPA sets standards and regulations for the presence and levels of over 90 contaminants in public drinking water, including E. coliSalmonellaCryptosporidium, metals such as lead and disinfection byproducts.

This information comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. To read more about safe drinking water during Water Quality Month, visit

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