Living in the United States means we’re generally lucky enough to enjoy the luxury of not thinking too much about our water. With a few notable exceptions, we can typically count on our tap water to be safe to drink and relatively good tasting. What makes and keeps it that way is a large amount of work by cities and local governments, working together to ensure the continuity of sourcing and treatment so all our communities have access to safe, drinkable water.
Understanding The Water Supply
So where does that water come from? While it might be mind-boggling to think about, there is a fixed amount of water on the earth — years and seasons pass, but the amount of water on this planet remains static, and always will. The water supply as a whole is made up of ocean water, surface water (water on land in the form of streams, rivers, ponds, and lakes), snowpack, icebergs and glaciers, as well as clouds and water vapor like fog and steam.\
The Water Cycle
The reason the water supply can be hard to comprehend is that all this water is scattered through different forms, and always moving and shifting from one state to another. This is what’s known as the water cycle, and it starts with precipitation. When water falls from the sky (in any of its forms, like rain, sleet, hail, or snow) it collects into the ocean, streams, rivers, and reservoirs, where it’s used in any number of ways, before it either filters back into the ground, or runs back out to the ocean. Water is then either stored on the surface as snowpack, or evaporates back into the atmosphere (forming the clouds) before eventually becoming precipitation once again. This water cycle process illustrates how water moves back and forth from its various states in this recognizable pattern that forms the foundation for life on Earth.
Tap and Drinking Water
Most of us access water from our local city government’s water bureau, something you’ll be familiar with if you’re the one responsible for paying the water bill each month. Where do they get the water that comes into your home? The answer to that varies based on where you live. Most cities and communities rely on nearby bodies of water (like lakes and rivers) to supply residents with safe, potable water. These types of ground or surface water supplies (lakes, streams, rivers, and reservoirs) are often the most dependable sources for large areas to draw from. Rural communities, by comparison, will often use wells or well systems to provide water for residents.
Municipal Water Treatment and Distribution
Once water sources are identified, the water has to get from the source (like a reservoir or river) to a treatment center, and then into individual homes and businesses. This is typically accomplished via a system of large pipes, commonly called water mains that run underground to treatment facilities before getting pumped back out to branch off into taps in homes, apartments, and businesses.
Treatment facilities use different methods to ensure water is safe for people to drink and use. Common water treatment includes chemical treatment, like the addition of chlorine, while some communities use advanced methods like UV filtration to keep water safe. The source of the water often determines the methods and extent of treatment, so each community’s water treatment is unique to its water sources. For example, if one city uses water from a nearby lake that has some microbial or bacterial contamination, they’re likely to use UV filtration to ensure there are no contaminants that could make people sick in the city water supply.
Once water is treated and safe to drink, it leaves the treatment center via a large network of pipes and mains to serve the taps and faucets of the community. Water bureaus run regular testing and maintenance to make sure that all the processes are performing as intended, however there can still be issues, especially where plumbing is concerned. In areas with older plumbing, water can leach minerals out of the pipes more easily, which can sometimes lead to undetected problems with water. If you live in an area with older plumbing or aging infrastructure, it’s a good idea to test your own water on your own to make sure there aren’t any potentially harmful contaminants making their way into your drinking water.
If you have any other concerns about your water — discoloration, staining, unpleasant odors or tastes — switch to drinking bottled water and have your water tested right away so you can identify any problems. It’s also a good idea to test your water regularly (as often as twice a year) no matter where you live, to make sure your water is safe. Your local Culligan Man can test your water for free, and go over results with you so you understand exactly what’s in your tap water in order to make an informed decision about the water quality in your home.
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