Thursday, October 31, 2019

Free Training for Small Water Systems in Mid Atlantic

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is offering free compliance assistance to smaller water and wastewater treatment facilities to Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. The goal is to help improve water quality protection throughout Chesapeake Bay Watershed and the Mid Atlantic Region.

EPA will be offering two training sessions in November, including a Wastewater Exam Preparation Course on November 7 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania and a Process Control Course on December 12 in Cumberland, Maryland. These session will offer valuable technical assistance and training to operators of smaller public and private treatment facilities to help bring them into compliance with the Clean Water Act.

The goal is to improve waterways throughout the mid-Atlantic region. However, plants that optimize their treatment performance often experience costs savings through reduced energy and chemical treatment usage. EPA is also working with state partners and other technical assistance providers to increase the number of facilities reached through this effort.

EPA has already had success in assisting smaller communities including Adamstown Borough, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania where technical assistance and training from EPA and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection also led to a 40 % reduction in electrical costs. EPA continues to work with Adamstown on new technologies to remove total nitrogen from water.

Facilities and system operators that are seeking compliance assistance and training opportunities can contact Walter Higgins of the Water Division’s Infrastructure and Assistance Section at 215-814-5476 or

Monday, October 28, 2019

Water Rates Increased in Most of the Region

Recently, Fairfax Water announced its intention to raise their water rates next spring. There will be a public hearing on Thursday, December 12, 2019, on the proposed rate increase held at Fairfax Water’s main office at 8570 Executive Park Avenue in Fairfax. This rate increase is part of their ongoing program to ensure that the water infrastructure in Fairfax County is maintained. Proposed revisions include a change in the commodity charge from $3.07 to $3.20 per 1,000 gallons, effective on April 1, 2020.

As they do every time they propose to raise water rates, Fairfax Water performed a comparison of the water costs throughout the Washington Metropolitan region. This comparison is based on rates as of July 1, 2018 and on 18,000 gallons of residential water use for an established account over a three month period. I also compared these rates to the comparison that was done in 2017 and 2018.

Most water and sewer utilities in our region are a separate, government enterprise fund established to be self-supporting. That means that the majority of their revenue is from charges for services provided to customers, including account charges, new connection charges and the charges for water and sewage by the gallon. These charges, both variable and fixed, are to cover the costs of renewing the buried pipes and distribution networks as well as the costs to operate and maintain the treatment plants. Towns like Manassas Park use water revenue to service other debt. 

As you can see above the City of Bowie had the largest percentage increase in their water rates over the past two years, increasing 41% . The next largest was Virginia American Water (Alexandria) which increased rates 38%  over the past two years and Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC) which increased rates 32% over the past two years. The highest water rates were City of Manassas Park still at $205.50 (they had no increases in the past two years), the Town of Leesburg (outside town limits) at $185.47 (18% increase), Virginia American Water (Prince William) at $150.25 (13% increase), followed by WSSC at $146.16 (32% increase).  Clearly, water rates are most part increasing faster than inflation and Fairfax Water provides the data because it still makes them look good.

The bulk of revenue has historically been from gallons of water sold.  However, water use in the region peaked about 30 years ago so, there has been more reliance on fixed fees and increasing rates to increase revenue.  In the past to keep water prices low some water distribution companies have cut their investments in maintaining their distribution systems (water treatment plants had to meet U.S.EPA standards), repairing piping after it failed instead of maintaining a planned repair schedule that Fairfax water has maintained. The Fairfax system is still relatively young and still growing. 

DC Water is a small system and has some of the oldest pipes in the region; some that still contain lead. Yet, their capital program was for many years designed to replace the distribution piping over a 300 year cycle. Pipes and valves are designed to last about 80 years. Pretty much DC water was planning for the failure of the system. In the past decade or so the replacement cycle has been shortened to 100 years, but that is too slow a pace for the aging system and unless additional investments are made. Last January over an 11 day period there were more than 150 broken water mains and service lines..  DC Water has reduced rates over the past two years.

WSSC is 101 years old and about a quarter of their 5,600 miles of water mains in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are over 50 years old. The WSSC is currently replacing 55 miles of water pipe each year making approximately $1.5 billion in capital investments and have an operation and maintenance budget of approximately $1.3 billion per year and a debt schedule to meet. They are still working hard to catch up. Last January alone there were 803 water main breaks. 

Thursday, October 24, 2019

National DEA Prescription Drug Take-Back Day

National DEA Prescription Drug Take-Back Day will be held on Saturday, October 26, 2019 10:00 am - 2:00 pm. Prince William County is again participating in the program. Simply bring your prescription drugs to the collection sites at Prince William Hospital, Heathcote Health Center and Sentara Lake Ridge between 10 am to 2:00 pm to safely dispose of unused and old drugs such as powerful narcotic, pain relievers and other controlled substances  to reduce the danger of unintentional use or overdose and illegal abuse. All legal pills or capsules will be accepted-prescription and over the counter tablets. Intravenous solutions, injectables such as insulin, and needles will not be accepted. The service is free and anonymous, and though no questions will be asked- Illicit substances such as marijuana or methamphetamine will also not be accepted.

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), most drugs can be thrown in the household trash, but should be taken out of their original containers and mixed with coffee grinds or kitty litter or otherwise made unpalatable. Drugs such as powerful narcotic pain relievers and other controlled substances still carry instructions for flushing to reduce the danger of unintentional use or overdose and abuse. This nationwide prescription drug “Take-Back” day is to prevent pill abuse and theft. According to the DEA, prescription drug abuse in the United States is increasing, as are the number of accidental poisonings and overdoses. Studies cited by the DEA show that a majority of abused prescription drugs are obtained from family and friends, including from the home medicine cabinet. So now is your chance to clean out your medicine cabinet without damaging the environment.

Despite the safety reasons for flushing some drugs, waste water treatment systems and septic systmes were simply not designed to handle chemicals and drugs. Recent studies have found trace levels of drug residues in surface water, such as rivers and lakes, and in our drinking water supplies coming from the Potomac and Occoquan Reservoir. Waste water treatment systems including septic systems are not designed to remove drug residue and traces of contaminants are being found in some groundwater aquifers nationwide. Thought many scientists believe that the main way drug residues enter water systems is by human waste-people taking medications which are not complexly metabolized and then naturally allowing the drugs to pass through their bodies.

The technology used for chemical analysis has advanced to the point that it is possible to detect and quantify nearly any compound known to human kind down to less than a nanogram per liter or parts per trillion (1/1,000,000,000,000). This enhanced analytical ability has allowed scientists to discover that trace levels of pharmaceuticals, potential endocrine disrupting compounds (EDC) and other emerging contaminants exist in much of our nation’s surface water and is appearing in some groundwater and persists in the water through conventional and some advanced water treatments to also appear in our drinking water. Fairfax Water has examined their drinking water for some of these emerging contaminants and found traces of some contaminants in both their source water and finished water.

The implications of this ubiquitous exposure are unknown, but of concern. The detection of a chemical does not mean that it will cause health effects or disease, but we really do not know. The guiding principal of toxicology has always been that there is a relationship between a toxic reaction (the response) and the amount of a substance received (the dose). An important assumption in this relationship is that there is almost always a dose below which no response occurs or can be measured. So if the concentration of the contaminant was low enough there would be no toxic reaction, but that principal is being tested with endocrine disruption, and advances in analysis.

Meanwhile, water utilities and citizens are left trying to address findings of emerging contaminants in their source and finished drinking water. A study conducted by the Water Research Foundation concluded that using a combination of ozone and granular activated carbon in addition to coagulation, sedimentation, filtration and disinfection is effective in removing some of the broad categories of endocrine disrupters, personal care products and pharmaceuticals found in drinking water. Both the Washington Aqueduct and Fairfax water now treat their water supplies with ozone, but it is best to keep drug and other substance out of our groundwater and surface water in the first place. Begin by not flushing chemicals and drugs down the toilet. Bring your unused pills and capsules to the  National DEA Prescription Drug Take-Back Day. Dispose of chemicals and household hazardous waste at the Prince William Landfill on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Legionella Bacteria Persists at St. Elizabeths

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that St. Elizabeths Hospital in Southeast Washington DC remains without water after more than 3 weeks. During routine testing on September 26th legionella bacteria was found in the water of the Washington DC psychiatric hospital that occupies St. Elizabeths East Campus. Legionella bacteria which can cause Legionnaires’ disease, and pseudomonas bacteria, which can cause severe infections in people with weakened immune systems were both found in the water.

Legionella is an opportunistic pathogen that is widespread in the environment. The major sources of Legionnaires’ disease are the potable water systems of large buildings including hospitals, nursing homes, and hotels. Legionella is a common cause of hospital-acquired pneumonia, especially for immune system compromised patients. Cooling towers were originally thought to be the main reservoir for Legionella, but subsequent studies have identified the water distribution systems as the major source of legionella disease in hospitals.(1-2)

Washington Post reported that even after super chlorination of the water system, test results showed evidence the legionella bacteria remained in the system; and the water system was being retreated on Friday and over the weekend. I know it sounds as if the super chlorination was improperly done, but legionella contamination of a healthcare facility is extremely difficult to remediate. Studies have found over and over again that it is incredibly difficult to achieve enduring disinfection of hospitals.

Biofilms of water distribution systems and points of use have long been recognized as a rich environment for growth of Legionella, mycobacteria, Pseudomonas, and other waterborne organisms. Eliminating biofilms and the pathogens residing in the biofilm is a major challenge. Organisms dwelling in these environments have been found to be especially impervious to chlorination and other disinfectants. 

Biofilms occur in the pipes, sink aerators, shower heads, water fountains and other points of use. Stagnation often present in older pipe designs promotes the ideal conditions for biofilm formation. Newer guidelines for hospital construction recommend against water pipe design with dead legs and long, horizontal runs and practices (such as intermittent water usage leading to low flow) that contribute to stagnation. St. Elizabeths predates these recommendations, and convoluted pipe architecture may render their structures more vulnerable to water system colonization with Legionella. Cooling towers have also been implicated in several outbreaks. Water can also stagnate at the points of use; colonization of fixtures such as electronic eye faucets, aerators, sink drainage pipes, ice machines, decorative fountains [3,4, 5, 6, 7], and others, has been reported, and some implicated in nosocomial transmission.

Overall there is no one method  of remediation that has proven successful in all cases. However, a growing body of data supports the effectiveness of monochloramine over other disinfectants for Legionella control. Chloramination is used widely in municipal water systems including the Washington Aqueduct that supplies potable water to DC Water, but there are insufficient data on its supplemental use in hospitals. Combining disinfection with heat treatment may be the most effective treatment (8). Legionella grow within amoebae and tolerate a wide range of temperatures. Legionella replicate between 20°C and 50°C. Temperatures above 60°C are highly effective at suppressing (but not eradicating) Legionella and do so within minutes. Studies done in Tiwan indicate that heat flushing disinfection at 70°C is the most effective treatment. Let’s hope whatever method is being used for the re-treatment of the water system works. It is unacceptable to have the incarcerated residents of the psychiatric hospital without running water for basic hygiene for over 3 weeks.

Microbial contamination of a healthcare facility water supply is better prevented than remediated. Many waterborne infections are preventable with strict adherence to optimal healthcare hygiene practices and water system procedures. Hospitals must have a water management program that are updated regularly and include regular cleaning and maintenance of water outlets to avoid contamination. So, once St. Elizabeths fixes this outbreak they should institute a robust water management program. 

The hospital facility that occupies St. Elizabeths East campus is supplied by a separate water tower and on a different loop than the water for the West Campus buildings occupied by the Department of Homeland Security which was found to be free of Legionella. So the problem is within the East campus and water tower.


1. Yu PY, Lin YE, Lin WR, Shih HY, Chuang YC, Ben RJ, Huang WK, Chen YS, Liu YC, Chang FY, Yen MY, Liu CC, Ko WC, Lin HH, Shi ZY. The high prevalence of Legionella pneumophila contamination in hospital potable water systems in Taiwan: implications for hospital infection control in Asia. Int J Infect Dis 2008;12:416-420.

2. Yu VL, Beam Jr TR, Lumish RM, Vickers RM, Fleming J, McDermott C, et al. Routine culturing for Legionella in the hospital environment may be a good idea: a three-hospital prospective study. AmJ Med Sci 1987;294:97—9.

3. Davies D. Understanding biofilm resistance to antibacterial agents. Nat Rev Drug Discov. 2003;2(2):114–22.

4. Simoes M, Simoes LC, Vieira MJ. Species association increases biofilm resistance to chemical and mechanical treatments. Water Res. 2009;43(1):229–37.

5. Vergara-Lopez S, et al. Wastewater drainage system as an occult reservoir in a protracted clonal outbreak due to metallo-beta-lactamase-producing Klebsiella oxytoca. Clin Microbiol Infect. 2013;19(11):E490–8.

6. Halabi M, et al. Non-touch fittings in hospitals: a possible source of Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Legionella spp. J Hosp Infect. 2001;49(2):117–21.

7. Sydnor ER, BG, Gimburg A, Cosgrove SE, Perl TM, Maragakis LL. Electronic-eye faucets: Legionella species contamination in healthcare settings. Infect Control Hosp Epidemiol. 2012;33(3):235–240.

8. Marchesi et. al. monitored Legionella contamination of water in three hospital buildings (two occupied by patients) for three years,

Thursday, October 17, 2019

30th Anniversary of Farm Field Days

Yesterday in the pouring rain, I spent the day at the Prince William County Fairgrounds volunteering at the 30th annual Farm Field Days. Between yesterday and today about 1,300 fourth graders, their teachers and chaperons will have enjoyed a field trip experiencing an interactive learning program bringing the farm to the students. The Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District runs this annual field trip at no cost to the schools using volunteers and donations. To pull off this annual two-day event requires many more people than the 6 person staff at the Conservation District, it required the help of more than 100 volunteers including Ecology Club students from Stonewall Jackson High School, the Master Gardeners, County Staff, Master Naturalists, “Homesteaders,” and our loyal friends and volunteer who year after year make this a great event.

Farm Field Days annually introduces the fourth-grade students from Prince William and Manassas schools to some of the basics of farming and natural-resources conservation. Students spend the day rotating through seven barns, with each barn highlighting an aspect of agriculture and ecology using hands-on lessons. The animal barns never fails to amaze the kids by not only showcasing the full range of farmyard critters from bees to chickens and cows, but feature interactive demonstrations of how common products are made. 

Demonstrations included wool spinning, butter churning, agricultural and industrial Regions of Virginia, trees and photosynthesis, and soil erosion through a science experiment, to name a few. These demonstrations are geared to meet Virginia SOL (standards of learning) measures. Farm Field Days is a fun and engaging hands-on approach to teaching students about the agricultural world around them, and opening their eyes to the importance of protecting our natural resources.

This year I was coordinating the regions of Virginia barn where students learned about the land, the rivers and the geology of the Commonwealth and how that shaped our communities and our lives. The Ecology Club from Stonewall Jackson did a great job of engaging the students in hands on learning. 

The Prince William County Conservation District, which focuses on protecting and enhancing the county’s water and soil resources, puts on programs that teach students about agriculture and environmental science. Farm Field Days is our oldest program. However,  funding from the county that used to go to those programs was redirected to cover the Chesapeake Bay cleanup, so the Prince William Environmental Excellence Foundation, the nonprofit affiliate of the conservation district, to fund the beyond-the-classroom learning opportunities, such as Farm Field Days and Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences continued. We raise money for these programs and our river monitoring programs through grants, donations, and the Farm to Table event in late August. None of this would be possible without the volunteers and support of the community. Thank you.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Update on the Health of the Urban Forest

Last Friday, Jim McGlone, Urban Forest Conservationist with the Virginia Department of Forestry gave a “Forest Health Update” to the Potomac Watershed Roundtable. In Northern Virginia we have seen oak trees brown and lose their leaves this summer. Dr. McGlone reports that it is NOT Oak Wilt, Sudden Oak Death nor Ambrosia Beetles. What this appears to be is a continuing of the Oak decline or oak distress syndrome that has been in the area since 2000.

The oak trees may not be dead. Do not cut them down, rather give them a chance to come back. Oak distress syndrome is a slow-acting disease complex that involves the interaction of predisposing factors, inciting factors and contributing factors. No single cause is responsible for the decline. According to Dr. McGlone the predisposing factors are: bad soil/ soil compaction, climate, tree age, wrong tree species for the location and bad genetics. Older trees, those that are more than 70 years old and live on drier sites such as shallow, rocky soils have been the most affected. The inciting factors are: drought, defoliation and frost. These factors reduce the tree’s ability to fight off insect and disease pests and make them more susceptible to future disturbances. They initiate decline by reducing growth, depleting the tree’s stored food reserves, and/or causing dieback. Finally, contributing factors such as secondary insects or diseases that ultimately kill the tree. Finally, the contributing factors to the decline are things such as sapwood borers, sapwood fungus, and root rot.

Dr. MGlone recommends trying to save garden ornamental trees by cutting back the grass cover in the root area and mulching as large an area as you can tolerate. Do not fertilize because it will cause new branch growth and compete for the starch created and stored in the roots needed to support continued tree metabolism. Trees are after all living organisms.

Other threats to our urban forests are the previously discussed emerald ash borer which has spread to just about every county in Virginia. (see a previous article for more details.) Other threats are:
The hemlock woolly adelgid, a tiny sap-sucking insect related to aphids, is causing widespread death and decline of hemlock trees. The adelgid looks like bits of cotton on the hemlock needles.

Laurel wilt, a disease is caused by a pathogen carried by the redbay ambrosia beetle – and by humans moving infested wood. This is an invasive species brought to this country in 2004 at the port of Savanah. The plants at risk from laurel wilt are sassafras, spice bush, red bay, bay leaf, and avocado.

The newest bad bug to arrive on the scene in Virginia is the spotted lanternfly, which is not a fly, but an aphid. This bug was first detected in Virginia in January 2018. This pest destroys grapes, peaches, hops and apples. The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has established a Spotted Lanternfly Quarantine for Frederick County and the city of Winchester to try and slow the spread of the spotted lanternfly to uninfested areas of the Commonwealth.

Look for the distinctive bug to help. In late fall, adults will lay egg masses on host trees and nearby smooth surfaces like stone, outdoor furniture, vehicles, and structures. The quarantine is to prevent the infestation from hitching a ride on your vehicle and infesting other parts of Virginia. It is believed that the spotted lanternfly arrived in Virginia on a load of garden stones from Pennsylvania which has a widespread infestation. You can help stop the spotted lanternfly in Virginia by abiding by the quarantine and helping Virginia Cooperative Extension track its spread. The pictures below are from Viginia Tech as is the video above.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The Problem is Water

The starting point for sustainability is water. Without water there can be no food and no power and ultimately, no life. Water shortages from Cape Town, South Africa, Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Brazil and Channai, India have demonstrated how global and perennial water crisis are becoming.

The United Nations world water development report 2019: leaving no one behind says: “Water use has been increasing worldwide by about 1% per year since the 1980’s, driven by a combination of population growth, socio-economic development and changing consumption patterns. Global water demand is expected to continue increasing at a similar rate until increase of 20-30% above the current level of water use...

All the water on earth is over 4 billion years old. “It's one of the more astonishing things about water — all the water on Earth was … here when Earth was formed, or shortly thereafter… There is, in fact, no mechanism on Earth for creating or destroying large quantities of water.” The quote above is from Charles Fishman’s book, The Big Thirst: The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water.

All the water that ever was or will be on earth is here right now. More than 97% of the Earth’s water is within the in oceans. The remaining 2.8% is the water within the land masses. The land masses contain all the fresh water on the planet- 77% in icecaps and glaciers and the remaining fresh water is stored primarily in the subsurface as ground water with a tiny fraction of a percent of water is stored as rivers and lakes which are renewed by rainfall. Rain drops fall to earth and will evaporate, infiltrate into the soil, recharge groundwater or flow along the ground to a stream and ultimately flow into rivers and to the ocean-moving always moving.

Mankind has interrupted the flow of streams and rivers to the oceans by diverting water for irrigation, withdrawing drinking water and building reservoirs, thus interrupting its flow to the ocean. We have also interrupted the recharge of groundwater. Changing the use of the land, covering it with buildings, driveways, roads, walkway and other impervious surfaces will change the hydrology of the site reducing groundwater recharge in the surrounding area. Once the hydrology is destroyed by development, it cannot be easily restored, if at all.

The United Nations projects that 68% of  the projected 9 billion people the will be the earth’s population will live in urban areas by 2050. Today 55% of the world’s population (just over 7 billion) lives in urban areas. The water supply to the rapidly growing cities has become unstable because of changing rain patterns, increased impermeable surfaces and increased population and demand for water. The available supply of fresh water is limited to that naturally renewed by the hydrologic cycle or artificially replenished by the activities of mankind and can exceed water demands during unusually wet periods like last year in Virginia or fall far below demands during drought periods. A community or society becomes unstable if water resources are “used up” –groundwater used up, reservoirs pumped dry. 

Monday, October 7, 2019

Now We Have Drought

In their weekly report of October 1, 2019 the U.S. Drought Monitor published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Department of Agriculture reported that 59.2% of Virginia is in drought conditions. In addition, 37.3% of Virginia was categorized as “Abnormally Dry.”

The Potomac watershed upstream of Washington DC got less than an inch of rain in September, and there is no major rain predicted in the near future. Yet, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) has released its October Water Supply Outlook, which forecasts adequate water to meet drinking water demands for the metropolitan area this year without releasing water from the reservoirs.

The dry September weather has caused such low flow at the Point of Rocks stream gauge that it has triggered daily monitoring of the water supply. A recent news story noted that area of the river was low enough to allow people to easily walk across the river. This is a big change from last year’s rain and there has been much discussion at the ICPRB about whether these extremes of rain are a product of climate change. The ICPRB has been researching the possible effects of climate change on water supplies and included a section on its possible effects in "2015 Washington Metropolitan Area Water Supply Reliability Study: Demand and Forecast for the Year 2040."

Though the report will be updated next year, the 2015 version of the Washington Metropolitan Area Water Supply Study indicates that by 2035, the current water supply system could experience considerable stress during a severe drought, not accounting for the impacts of climate change. “By 2040, in the event of a severe drought, there would be a chance that storage in Little Seneca Reservoir would be depleted and that flow in the Potomac River would drop below the minimum environmental flow level of 100 million gallons per day at Little Falls dam...”.

The variability of  potential future changes in stream flows due to a changing climate were obtained from a model developed using the Chesapeake Bay Program Watershed Model and climate change projections. This model linked potential changes in climate to changes in stream flows and found that “According to projections from climate models, temperatures in the Potomac basin will rise whereas precipitation could rise or fall. Both temperature and precipitation have an impact on stream flows, and the range of available climate projections lead to a wide range of potential changes in water availability in the basin.” In other words when the last projection was done, they were not sure what would happen. Thus, as climate modeling and water demand improves, updates to the assessments are necessary.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Bottled Water, Tap Water

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water as a packaged food under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act and has established standards for testing bottled water that are not as stringent as the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) standards, though derived from the SDWA. The FDA requires using an approved source of water, but without a definition of what an approved source of water is.

The Environmental Protection Agency regulates public drinking water supplies under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The actual safety of the water depends on the effective operation and compliance of the public water utility and the condition of the water distribution system. Though a large number of Americans believe that bottled water is safer than tap water “almost 64% of bottled water sold in the United States is filtered tap water.” (Consumer Reports November 2019 page 38.) The rest of the bottled water in the United States comes from Artesian wells, mineral well water, spring water, well water, or is imported (Fiji Water actually comes from an Artesian well in Fiji. How insane is it to ship water the United States from the South Pacific?)

The safest and most consistent source water is still a protected groundwater aquifer with a confining geological layer. That is why there are safe private wells that do not require treatment. When used as the source of the bottled water a protected groundwater aquifer can provide very good quality water with consistent taste. Surface water sources, such as lakes, streams and rivers are open to contamination from animals, and runoff. Surface water needs to be treated to disinfect and purify the water. The safest bottled water is either from a regulated and municipal supply that has been treated to meet SDWA standards and then is filtered or that comes from a protected groundwater aquifer or spring. In our modern world groundwater aquifers are potentially vulnerable to a wide range of man-made and naturally occurring contaminants, including many that are not regulated in drinking water under the SDWA, or by the FDA for bottled water.

Man people say they prefer bottled water because of its taste. The taste of all water has to do with the way it is treated and the quality of its source water, including its natural mineral content. One of the key taste differences between tap water and bottled water is due to the residual taste from disinfection and impurities built up in the distribution system. The bottled water industry bypasses the aging distribution systems of our cities and filters out disinfection residuals or uses ozone or ultraviolet light to disinfect the water leaving no residual taste. Americans drink 12-13 billion gallons of bottled water each year at a cost of $31 billion. If you filled a reusable glass or stainless steel container with filtered tap water, that same water would cost around $15 million.

Filtering your tap water and using your own stainless steel bottle saves money. Filtering can improve the taste and purity of tap water. Reusable bottles help shrink the global glut of discarded plastic bottles. According to the EPA, less than a third of PET plastic bottles are recycled, the rest end up in landfills, along roadways (I have seen people just toss plastic bottles out car windows), and polluting our streams and rivers adding to the mass of plastic pollution overtaking the planet. Since the beginning of the 20th century mankind has made an estimated 8,300 million metric tons of plastic.

Instead of spending money on bottles of water you should be fighting to maintain and improve our public water supplies in our communities. If your home’s water comes from a public water system, the best way to learn more about your water quality is to read your water supplier’s annual water quality report which should be sent to you annually. If your water comes from a private drinking water well, you need to know the condition of the groundwater that supplies your well. EPA recommends testing the water regularly for bacteria, nitrates, and other contaminants. The Virginia Rural Household Water Quality Program recommends that ever three years you test your well for at least coliform bacteria, E coli, pH, total dissolved solids (TDS), nitrate, and other contaminants of local concern.