Recipes Appetizers & Drinks How to Know if Your Drinking Water is Safe

With all the recent bad news on the Flint River crisis, there are concerns for the safety of our drinking water. This basic information should help get you started if you have questions.

Public drinking water supplies (surface water or groundwater) are regulated under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Under this law, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates almost 100 contaminants, such as byproducts of chlorine disinfection, E. coli, salmonella, cryptosporidium, and lead.

A good source of local information is your community water system’s annual report, or Consumer Confidence Report (CCR). It has information on the system’s drinking water quality, source of the water, and any contaminants that may be present.

Even though tap water is generally considered to be safe, problems can occur from naturally occurring contaminants like radon, arsenic, or uranium, or from activities in your community, including manufacturing operations, or sewage overflows. There can also be problems if the drinking water treatment system malfunctions.

The infrastructure of a water system can also cause unsafe drinking water, as is the case with lead piping. Check with your community water supplier regarding possible lead piping issues in the system and investigate the plumbing in your own residence, and any connecting service lines. If you are unsure, the best way to avoid lead in the short term is to run your water for a few minutes and only use cold water to drink or for cooking.

For more information
More information on contaminants in drinking water can be found at the EPA’s website, on its Drinking Water Contaminants page (

For help in understanding your community water system’s annual report, see Understanding Consumer Confidence Reports (

Your community’s annual report may also be posted online at the EPA’s local drinking water site (

Private wells are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, although in some areas, local or state government have established rules. Where you drill your well, how you construct it, and how well you maintain it will affect the quality of your drinking water. Test your well regularly, as groundwater can be contaminated by fertilizers and pesticides, farming practices, polluted runoff, failing septic systems, and even neighbors who dispose of hazardous chemicals improperly.

Local health departments sometimes offer testing for nitrates, pH, fecal coliform, and volatile organic compounds in private wells. Nitrates are a particular problem in rural areas and present a serious threat to infants.

For more information
See the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention webpage ( on private wells.

Pay attention to your water. Changes in odor, color, and taste can be red flags. If your water is from a public water supply, contact its managers with your concerns. If you use your own private well, contact your local health department for assistance. For general questions about drinking water, call the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791.

Tanya_CabalaTanya Cabala is a lifelong resident of the White Lake area and has been an environmental and community activist for over 25 years, working to restore White Lake and aiding efforts to protect the Great Lakes. She is also an elected city council member, freelance writer and consultant. Readers are encouraged to contact her at

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