In 2012, the California legislature passed the Human Right to Water Act, which declared that all Californians had a right to “safe, clean, affordable, and accessible water.” Unfortunately, the law was rather light on the details (and, more importantly, the funds) to ensure this would become a reality. While the government continues to debate the issue, some 360,000 Californians remain with unsafe drinking water, and at least 6 million residents are being served by water providers found to be in violation of state standards at some point in the last six years.
The big question, then, is whether or not you’re one of them.
Exposure to contaminated water can lead to a number of serious health problems, both immediate and more long term. A recent study by an environmental advocacy group found that many contaminants present in California’s public water systems (such as arsenic and hexavalent chromium) could significantly increase the risk of cancer over the course of one’s lifetime. The study found that the state’s smallest water systems, which lack many of the advanced treatment techniques used by larger systems, were more likely to have higher contaminant levels.
Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can check the quality of your water supply. A little research can go a long way toward providing peace of mind for your household.
Check With Your Local Water Department
If your home is served by a municipal water department, learning the status of your water supply is rather easy. Federal law requires water agencies to provide customers with an annual water quality report called the Consumer Confidence Report. This report details any and all contaminants that may be present in the local water supply and provides information about the health risks they present. In most cases, the report must be delivered either by mail or through the department’s website (if you pay online) by July 1 of every year. You can find the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities’ 2018 report here.
Research the Safe Drinking Water Information System
Maintained by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) compiles information about water quality across the United States. It records violations as far back as 1993, providing a good idea of areas that suffer ongoing water quality problems. The site isn’t the most user-friendly, however, so it may take some time to dig through all of the information cataloged there.
Test Your Well Water
If your home is supplied by well water, it can be a bit more difficult to evaluate water quality. Private wells are generally not regulated by state or federal agencies and should be tested every year to ensure that the local groundwater has not become contaminated. In addition to annual testing, well water should also be tested under the following circumstances:
- Contaminated water has been reported in the area.
- The area around the well was recently subjected to flooding, soil disturbances, construction, or industrial activity.
- Any part of the well system was recently replaced.
- There have been changes in your water quality (such as odor, color, taste).
What to Do if Your Water is Contaminated
One of the first questions you need to answer is whether the contamination is the result of problems with the water supply itself or with your plumbing. If the municipal water supply is contaminated, then the entire community will be affected. In this situation, households are often forced to use bottled water until political or legal pressure can be brought to bear on the local authorities to address the problem. Households may also decide to install water filtration systems to treat water before it enters the home. In an emergency or temporary situation, boiling water before using it can eliminate certain types of organic contaminants.
If other homes receiving water from the same source show no signs of contamination, then the problem is most likely with your main water pipe. Cracks in the main supply line bringing water into the house can permit various chemicals and bacteria to leech into the water from the soil. In this situation, trenchless pipe replacement offers a cost-effective solution that is less disruptive than traditional repair methods. While a filtration system may be able to address the contamination, the damaged pipe will likely lead to additional problems in the long run and should be replaced or repaired immediately.
For homes with well water, the options for treating contaminants are more limited. Installing a quality filtration system is the primary solution. Water can be treated either at the point of entry, where it comes into the house, or the point of use, where it is actually dispensed inside the home. Generally speaking, point-of-entry systems are less intrusive and more cost-efficient in the long run. They treat all water coming into the house, no matter how it is being used, whereas a point-of-use system is only used at individual faucets or appliances. A point-of-entry treatment system is usually installed near the water meter or a water storage tank. Some homes also feature multi-system water treatment solutions that incorporate several types of filtration and treatment, allowing them to treat hard water while also removing contaminants and bacteria.
However, point-of-entry systems can also reduce water pressure and may not provide the same level of filtration as a point-of-use system. The latter can be fitted with a variety of filters to screen out different contaminants. While each individual system itself is inexpensive to install, it could be cost prohibitive to equip every faucet and appliance in the house. Plus, the filters must be replaced regularly, requiring a much higher level of ongoing maintenance than point-of-entry systems.
Whether your California home is supplied by municipal water systems or a well, checking for contaminants on a regular basis is a good practice to ensure the safety of the people in your household. With so many areas of the state experiencing trouble with water, keeping up to date on your local water quality is a wise precaution. If you have any doubts about your water quality, be sure to check with a professional plumbing contractor any time you’re having work done. Their experience and expertise can answer most questions you may have about your water supply.