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 Drinking Water

Drinking Water







This section explores why clean drinking water is an essential for survival, the different sources we draw drinking water from, and the threats to drinking water.

Human Consumption of Drinking Water
Water is absolutely essential for survival. A person may survive for a month without food, but only about a week without water. People can't survive on any water either, we need to have clean water to drink. Clean water contributes to good health; contaminated water can cause disease and even death. In order to be clean enough for human consumption, water usually has to be "treated" in some way.

The quality of water coming into a water treatment plant is directly related to the types of activities or land use occurring in the watershed. If there is a lot of agricultural activity, there may be excess nutrients from farm field runoff. If there is a lot of industrial activity, there’s potential for chemicals used in manufacturing processes to get into the water. The geology of a particular watershed is also important. Some areas have naturally occurring compounds, like arsenic, that are picked up in the water cycle and must be removed before water is safe to drink. Today, drinking water in the United States meets a set of standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Where Does Drinking Water Come From?
Most communities in the United States rely on public utilities to provide clean drinking water, but there are plenty of rural areas where people still get water from their own wells. Some drinking water comes from groundwater resources like aquifers, some comes from surface water resources like rivers and streams. Protecting both surface water and ground water is extremely important. Even with water treatment, it is possible for some contaminants to make it through the system. (An outbreak of cryptosporidium in Milwaukee caused widespread disease). The fewer pollutants that make their way into water supplies, the less potential there is for people to get sick and the less water treatment is necessary.

Check it out!
  • Public water supply systems in the U.S. produce more than 34 billion gallons of drinking water per day.

  • The U.S. has more than 60,000 community water supply systems valued at over $175 billion.

  • The average price of water in North America is about $1.27 per 1000 gallons. A penny buys 160 glasses of drinking water.


What do you think?
In Iowa, 80% of all drinking water comes from ground water. Where does your community’s drinking water come from?


Check it out!
Well water: In remote rural areas, it is usually too expensive to put pipes from the nearest public water utility to each house. Each homeowner is responsible for the drilling of a well, then getting the water tested, and if necessary, treated. The county health department can often do testing, while treatment can consist of everything from adding chlorine to filtering to water softening.

Environmental Protection Agency. "National Water Quality Inventory: 1998 Report to Congress." Online. http://www.epa.gov/305b/98report/index.html March 2002.




Explore More: Water Quality
Copyright 2004, Iowa Public Television
The Explore More project is supported by funds from the
Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust
and the USDE Star Schools Program.


History of Water Treatment
Evidence of water treatment dates far back in history. Ancient Egyptian inscriptions describe a wide variety of water purification processes including boiling water, exposing it to sunlight, filtering it through charcoal, or just letting it settle in jugs.

If you pay attention to the news, you will notice that after a major national disaster anywhere in the world, one of the first concerns is to provide clean drinking water; otherwise, diseases may take hold and create a second disaster.

Surface Water
Surface waters are constantly moving through the water cycle as they move downstream rivers or evaporate, condense, and precipitate.More

IPTV Market to Market Online Links

"Big Bucks in Bottled Water."
Think bottled water is better? This Market to Market feature explains that tap and bottled water may not be so different after all.

Tap Water As Good As Bottled
Despite perceptions that it may be healthier, a recent study found there is little difference between water from a bottle and municipal water from the tap

PBS NewsHour Online Links

Margaret Warner talks to Red Cross relief worker Christopher Thomas on efforts to distribute aid in flood-ravaged Mozambique.

Betty Ann Bowser reports on the science and price of safe drinking water.