Category Archives: Drinking Water

Can Drinking “Raw” Water Make You Sick?

Raw WaterAs 2017 came to a close and 2018 began, a growing health fad was reported throughout the news and social media: Americans paying top-dollar to drink bottled “raw” water from a spring. Whether for purported health benefits or a misguided effort to get off the “drinking water grid,” as chair of the Water Quality & Health Council, I felt it imperative to address the very real risks of drinking untreated water.

What Is Raw Water?

As you may have already guessed, “raw” water is untreated, unfiltered, and unsterilized (non-disinfected) in this case spring water that is being increasingly bottled, marketed, and sold as-is for drinking in affluent pockets of the United States.1 In addition to containing unknown and potentially unsafe levels of “naturally occurring” minerals like arsenic, raw water likely contains an unknown level of microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoa—many of which can make you READ MORE >>

Keeping Iron Bacteria out of Your Well

Iron bacteria-contaminated toilet tank Photo credit: Thomas Scherer, North Dakota State University

Iron bacteria-contaminated toilet tank
Photo credit: Thomas Scherer, North Dakota State University

Are you one of almost 45 million Americans who get their water from a private well?1 If so, you undoubtedly want clean, safe, and clear water. But if unpleasant tastes or smells are coming out of your faucets, and your sinks, tubs, and toilets are stained reddish-brown, your well and water system might be contaminated with iron bacteria. This fall, one of us (RM) noticed a brownish foam in his toilet tank and a distinct iron taste to the drinking water, despite having an on-site water softener…

Iron Bacteria and Well Water

Iron bacteria are microorganisms that use iron (or manganese) as an energy source. Bacteria from the genera Gallionella, Leptothrix, and Crenothrix are important members of the iron bacteria group, and occur naturally in surface water and soil in many states … READ MORE >>

Water Loss: Challenges, Costs and Opportunities

Leaking water main I wrote at the end of 2016 about the Future of America’s Drinking Water, and summarized some basic facts about US daily and annual water consumption. For example, Americans consume more than one billion glasses of tap water each day, while just 3% of our nation’s 50,000 community water systems provide safe drinking water for almost 80% of the US population.1 This remarkable public health and engineering achievement relies on a vast—and aging—infrastructure, including an estimated 1.2 million miles of distribution pipes that leak and sometimes break spectacularly.2 Considering all sources and types of losses, an estimated 6 billion gallons of treated drinking water are lost every day. In this article, I’d like to focus on the challenges and costs, as well as some opportunities and solutions, associated with water loss in the United States.

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Autumn: When Leaves Fall, So Can Water Quality

autumnNow that summer is over—and hopefully the record-setting 2017 hurricane season—many of us can turn our attention to the cooler temperatures, shorter days and the colorful splendor of autumn leaves. Of course, all of those red, orange, and yellow leaves are short-lived and fall to the ground, forming truly massive amounts of organic debris. But did you know that this yearly spectacle, and all that leaf litter, can have a negative effect on water quality?

Leaf Litter, Nutrients and Stormwater Research

Prior to the 1970s, most “urban leaves” were burned in yards and provided the unmistakeable smell of autumn … to the marked disadvantage of air quality. Beginning in the early 1970s, many cities banned the open burning of leaves and some eventually began collecting leaves at curbside. In 1972, the National Science Foundation funded a group of 12 students (myself included) to consider alternatives to burning leaves in … READ MORE >>

If Nothing Changes, It Will Happen Again: New Zealand’s Untreated Drinking Water

New Zealand Drinking WaterJust over a year ago, in August 2016, I wrote about how more than 5,000 of the 14,000 residents of Havelock North—a suburb of the City of Hastings on the North Island of New Zealand—became sickened after drinking untreated groundwater contaminated with Campylobacter bacteria, a common food- and waterborne disease-causing microorganism that is transmitted in the feces of infected persons and animals. It was New Zealand’s largest and most costly drinking water outbreak. Last February, I provided an update on a government inquiry into the avoidable outbreak, which may have contributed to the loss of three lives. Now I will comment on the current national discussion in New Zealand about whether or not to require treatment of drinking water, which believe it or not, is still going on.

Government Inquiry and What the Experts Have to Say

The first stage of the inquiry, which included extensive public … READ MORE >>

Stockholm Junior Water Prize Winners Propose Novel Approach to Expanding Safe Water Resources

New York high school students Ryan Thorpe and Rachel Chang, receive the 2017 Stockholm Junior Water Prize from H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden in Stockholm Photo credit: The Stockholm International Water Institute

New York high school students Ryan Thorpe and Rachel Chang, receive the 2017 Stockholm Junior Water Prize from H.R.H. Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden in Stockholm

Photo credit: The Stockholm International Water Institute

 

Striving for a better world by 2030, countries around the globe are beginning to incorporate the new, ambitious UN Sustainable Development Goals into their national agendas. Among the 17 bold goals, which include ending poverty and hunger, is the goal of universal access to safe drinking water and sanitation. This goal was front and center at last week’s Stockholm International Water Institute’s (SIWI) World Water Week meeting, the world’s biggest annual global meeting focused on water and development. SIWI Executive Director, Torgny Holmgren noted, “… it is here that we come together and make sure that the very best ideas are brought forward”.

One of those ideas originated with two Long Island, New York, high … READ MORE >>

Touring Orange County’s Groundwater Replenishment System and Celebrating World Water Week 2017

gwrsThe theme of this year’s World Water Week, which runs from August 27 to September 1, is “Water and Waste: Reduce and Reuse.” World Water Week was established in 1991 and is organized each year by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI).

To mark World Water Week, we thought it only fitting to share a highlight of our July 2017 summer meeting—a tour of the unique Groundwater Replenishment System (GWRS) of the Orange County Water District and the Orange County Sanitation District (OCWD/OCSD) in California.

World Water Week 2017

SIWI promotes sustainable development in water governance and transboundary water management. In 2016, SIWI named WQ&HC’s Dr. Joan Rose winner of their prestigious Stockholm Water Prize. As described in their program, World Water Week 2017 will focus on United Nations Sustainable Development Goals 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) and 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production). OCWD and OCSD … READ MORE >>

Climbing the Rungs of the Safe Water and Sanitation Service Ladders

Workers in Haiti install chlorinator equipment to disinfect a community water supply a measure that will help prevent waterborne illness

Workers in Haiti install chlorinator equipment to disinfect a community water supply a measure that will help prevent waterborne illness

The humble ladder can be a symbol of progress toward lofty goals. The lyrics of Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young,” for example, include a moving wish for the singer’s newborn son: “May you build a ladder to the stars and climb on every rung…” Symbolic ladders are also used by the Joint Monitoring Program of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to communicate progress toward the goal of universal safe drinking water and sanitation.

In “UN-speak,” that ambitious goal is Post-2015 Sustainable Development Goal #6, which includes specific targets and indicators that will help track progress toward a world in which waterborne illnesses are rare and sanitation is safely managed.

Ladders to a Better Life for All

Clean water and safely managed sanitation are … READ MORE >>

Keeping Your Reusable Water Bottle Clean

Louisville Water Company promotes filling reusable water bottles with tap water

Louisville Water Company promotes filling reusable water bottles with tap water

The reusable water bottle is one of those “grab and go” items that travel with many of us on a daily basis. The filled water bottle provides a handy means of hydrating on the spot. As we’ve noted, many water fountains now conveniently include water bottle-filling features. There’s just one caveat to deriving the maximum health benefit from reusable water bottles: They should be thoroughly cleaned and sanitized on a regular basis to avoid contamination.

Germs Love Moist Environments

Germs thrive in moist environments such as parts of the cap and interior of your water bottle. As Dr. Charles Gerba of the University of Arizona notes, if you use your fingers to open and close the water bottle cap, there is a good chance that bacteria will be introduced into the cap, where moisture will support its … READ MORE >>

The Once and Future Water Fountain

water fountainIn the years since we last wrote on this topic, drinking water fountains—a once ubiquitous feature of the U.S. public health landscape—continue to decline in diversity, maintenance and numbers.1 Yet because many people, including commuters, tourists and the homeless, often rely on fountains for (usually) free and safe municipal water, they should not be taken for granted.

Concerns over drinking water quality, particularly lead and other metals associated with aging infrastructure but also waterborne diseases, continue to make headlines. But are these concerns well-founded? And if so, what can be done to reinvent public drinking water fountains in the era of the smart city and smart phone?

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