Water worries

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I was reading about the Flint water crisis and all of its fallout, and it made me realize that I take a lot for granted about the way that my water works–and that makes me nervous. I spend plenty of time in and around water, swimming in the ocean and pools, showering and, of course, drinking… when am I at risk? What makes water unhealthy? If something goes wrong with my water supply, will I know right away?

The Flint water crisis was sparked in 2014, when the city changed the source of its drinking water and officials neglected key steps in water treatment. Its fallout was felt nationwide, but nowhere more than in Flint, where residents dealt with unhealthy and discolored drinking water and suffered an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease (possibly, but not definitely related to the crisis) that killed 12 people.

Flint’s was an extreme case, but water contamination issues are far from unheard-of. Water is capable of carrying all sorts of things that can hurt us, from bacteria to radiation. Pollution of our oceans can make them unsafe for swimming, and problems with our pipes can (as in Flint) ruin our drinking water.

So how do we keep water clear? Well, it all depends on what sort of water we’re talking about. Ocean water is considered safe for swimming if meets certain EPA standards. Preserving clean beaches is a matter of checking conditions and being conscious of environmental policy–as well as of currents, which determine where pollution ends up. In swimming pools, stagnant water is made safe with the use of chlorine, say the installation counselors at Monarch Pools and Spas–but pool owners have additional responsibilities, as filters, pool cleaners, and draining and re-filling schedules all have roles to play, too.

Big companies use water, too. Government regulations mandate various wastewater treatment policies for companies, say the stone fabrication wastewater treatment experts at M.W. Watermark LLC. Companies use water for everything from cooling saws to drilling for oil, and those companies must then find a way to treat the water and make it safe again.

Finally, there’s the water that’s most important to you: drinking water. Drinking water is usually drawn from a reservoir and is made safer through a variety of methods, including filtration. Wastewater leaving your house heads to a wastewater treatment plant before being released back into the water cycle. Problems can affect this system–for instance, a pressure loss could allow sewage to flow backwards, contaminating the water. In general, though, you can expect to be quickly notified by your municipality if there are any issues. You may have to boil your water before you can use it, or you may not be able to use your water at all until the issue is fixed.

Of course, Flint’s experience proves that incompetence and deceit can lead to worse outcomes than a boil water warning–a key part of the problem was that officials broke the law. So while it’s good to be cognisant of how our water system works, there’s not much that you can do to check directly on the quality of your water. Pay attention in local elections, and react quickly if you receive word of an issue with the water. But, hopefully, everything will keep working and you’ll keep getting clean, healthy water.

“Water is life, and clean water means health.” — Audrey Hepburn

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