Water Health Educator
Learn: Water at Home
Creative Water Filtration Solutions
by Sara Mullery
(PDF — 972 KB)
Water Conservation and Quality Assurance
by Shannyn Snyder
Although public water in the U.S. is regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency to meet certain standards, it is important that consumers do their part to ensure the safety of water at home. These measures differ depending upon where you live and what type of water you use (municipal or well), but water conservation and safe water disposal should be practiced even in North America where water is considered to be clean and plentiful.
Water scarcity is not just a problem in developing countries, and U.S. waterways have undergone a sizable depletion due to both privatization and climate change. Water scarcity is not just measured by a lack of water but also by the availability of potable water. The U.S. and Canada also annually continue to use larger quantities of water compared to other countries, a trend exacerbated by our growing consumption of commodities such as automatic sprinkler systems, jumbo-size washing machines, automatic garbage disposals and dishwashers.
According to Dr. James M. Symons in Plain Talk About Drinking Water, the residential use of drinking water by one person in one year greatly differs not only from developing countries but also to other westernized countries as well, as indicated in gallons below:
United States 52,500
Consumers on municipal water systems are cautioned about flushing liquids down the drain such as aluminum or ammonia-based cleaners, hair products, glues, paints and paint thinners and alcohol-based lotions. Residents on septic systems need to exercise even greater caution, as there is an increased risk of septic leaching into ground water. Homeowners on well water must also care for the natural biodegradable component of their system. Instead of flushing or using the garbage disposal, septic owners should instead “throw out” products such as fats, grease, cooking oil, coffee grounds, meat bones, household cleaners, gas, transmission or brake fluids, anti-freeze, pesticides, cigarettes, diapers or feminine hygiene products. The substances or items listed can either affect the natural chemicals in the system or they are non-biodegradable.
Water conservation is typically not practiced in U.S. homes, and water shortages or water emergencies are often met with open disdain by suburbanites who balk at the idea that washing a car will cause a remarkable drop in overall water availability. However, the statistics of U.S. and Canadian water usage may be surprising. The average toilet requires 4 to 6 gallons of water in the U.S. (or the same imperial gallons in Canada), and toilet flushing accounts for approximately 40% of U.S. household water usage daily, followed by baths or showers (32%) and laundry (14%).
Simple conservation methods include using a set-in water-filled glass jar or jug to lessen the amount of water needed to fill a toilet tank (never use brick as it can crumble and damage the toilet) or install low-flow showerheads. Running washing machines and dishwashers only when they are full, using aerators on kitchen and bathroom faucets and avoiding using the toilet as a trashcan for tissues, cigarettes or gum) can all greatly reduce household water use.
While it is easy to take for granted the need for water conservation in home environments where water is so plentiful, it is important to remember that much of the developing world lives on a ration of 2 to 6 gallons of water per day, barely enough to flush one toilet in one U.S. household toilet one time.
For more water saving tips for homeowners, see: http://www.water.ca.gov/drought/docs/WaterSavingTips.pdf
Source: Symons, James M. (2001). Plain Talk About Drinking Water. American Water Works Association.
Water Filtration at Home
by Shannyn Snyder
Taking the steps from buying bottled water to bottling your own can be a relatively simple process with little to no expense or investment. However, the transition can require a little extra effort for those consumers who worry about the safety of their home tap water.
As mentioned in the “clear choice” article, in his book Plain Talk About Drinking Water, Dr. James M. Symons states that most tap water is indeed safe, although it should be noted that those who live on well water are responsible for determining their own water quality. For those consumers serviced by municipal water, The Consumer Confidence Report (which often arrives with your water bill) typically lists, among other data, which various parasites and chemicals are part of their daily testing and how the water is treated.
In addition, anyone can test their water for added assurance that their water is ready for drinking. According to Healthy Child, Healthy World by Christopher Gavigan, water testing kits such as WaterSafe are typically available at home improvement stores (p 173) as well as online. Although more expensive than home testing, homeowners can also have their water tested by a licensed, professional service. Well-water should also be tested annually via one of these options to ensure its safety for all uses. Should a home test yield adverse results, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has a Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791) for consumers who have questions about water quality or water safety issues.
Gavigan of the Healthy Child, Healthy World organization says that even if water quality reports and testing produce a clean bill of health, consumers who need additional peace of mind can take filtration a step further by adding a home water filter. These filters include faucet or countertop units, whole-house filters or a distiller. However, filtration can be as simple as placing a small filter pitcher, such as by Pur or Brita, in your refrigerator or on your desk. These convenient containers come in a variety of sizes and use activated carbon to absorb sediment and chemicals (pgs 174-176).
Bottled water drinkers who typically purchase the beverages predominantly because of the convenient packaging can invest in a few stainless steel water bottles which can be filled with readied tap water, rinsed and reused. These bottles are easily found on the web or in local department stores, and according to Gavigan, should be chosen in lieu of plastic containers which can contain chemicals that may leach into water over time (pgs 176-177).
Finally, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, available fresh water only accounts for 3% of the worldwide water resources, so conservation is not only responsible but necessary. Concerned consumers can take steps towards conservation by bottling tap water at home. In the long run, a decreased demand for bottled water products may help discourage manufacturers from producing a wasteful commodity that alone accounts for more than 2 million tons of plastic refuse in U.S. landfills today.