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Operator Certification: States must implement programs to certify operators of drinking water systems. EPA has published guidance outlining minimum requirements. Small Systems and Capacity Development: The program addresses issues affecting drinking water systems serving populations less than 3,300. A major focus is on capacity development, which refers to the technical, financial and managerial capacity of a system to provide safe drinking water. The program also provides information about treatment technology options for small systems.
Laboratories and Monitoring:
Water systems must monitor their drinking water to ensure that it is safe
for their customers. Monitoring schedules differ according to the type
of contaminant and the population that the public water system serves.
EPA approves the analytical methods that laboratories use to analyze drinking
water samples and also certifies the laboratories.
Water Conservation: See our water
efficiency page for information on guidelines for states on water
conservation programs and guidance for water systems on how to prepare
water conservation plans, as well as fact sheets for the public.
Research: The Office of Research
& Development's Water
Supply and Water Resources Division conducts research to help prepare
drinking water regulations and to develop technologies and strategies
for controlling waterborne contaminants.
Public Water System Supervision (PWSS) Program
Enforcement: EPA's Office of Enforcement
and Compliance Assurance (OECA) works on enforcement
activities related to drinking water.
Variances and Exemptions: States
or EPA may grant variances to allow public water systems to use less costly
technology. Exemptions can allow public water systems more time
to comply with a new regulation. Read the
rule, published in August 1998.
Information from other federal agencies:
Water Quality FAQ
Q. How can I find out if my tap water is safe to drink?
A: Because of water's different sources and the different ways in which
water is treated, the taste and quality of drinking water varies from
place to place. Over 90 percent of water systems meet EPA's standards
for tap water quality. The best source of specific information about your
drinking water is your water supplier. Water suppliers that serve the
same people year-round are required to send their customers an annual
water quality report (sometimes called a consumer confidence report).
Contact your water supplier to get a copy or see
if your report is posted on-line. For additional information, visit
EPA's web site's on local drinking water (provides
links to state and local sources of water quality information) and
drinking water and health (provides information on drinking water
contaminants and their health effects).
Q. How will I know if my water isn't safe to drink?
A: Your water supplier must notify you by newspaper, mail, radio, TV,
or hand-delivery if your water doesn't meet EPA or state standards or
if there is a waterborne disease emergency. The notice will describe any
precautions you need to take, such as boiling your water. Follow the advice
of your water supplier if you ever receive such a notice. The most common
drinking water emergency is contamination by disease-causing germs. Boiling
your water for one minute will kill these germs. You can also use common
household bleach or iodine to disinfect your drinking water at home in
an emergency, such as a flood (see EPA's emergency
disinfection fact sheet for specific directions on how to disinfect
your drinking water in an emergency).
Q. What's this new drinking water report that I've heard about?
A. Water suppliers must deliver to their customers annual drinking water
quality reports (or consumer confidence
reports). These reports will tell consumers what contaminants have
been detected in their drinking water, how these detection levels compare
to drinking water standards, and where their water comes from. The reports
must be provided annually before July 1, and, in most cases, are mailed
directly to customers' homes. Contact your water supplier to get a copy
of your report, or see if your
report is posted on-line.
Q. How can I get my water tested?
A.: If your home is served by a water system, get a copy of your annual
water quality report before you test your water. This report will
tell you what contaminants have been found in your drinking water and
at what level. After you've read this report, you may wish to test for
specific contaminants (such as lead) that can vary from house to house,
or any other contaminant you're concerned about. EPA does not test individual
homes, and cannot recommend specific laboratories to test your drinking
water. States certify water testing laboratories. You may call your state
certification officer to get a list of certified laboratories in your
state. Depending on how many contaminants you test for, a water test can
cost from $15 to hundreds of dollars.
Q. What is a drinking water standard?
A. Under the authority of the Safe Drinking
Water Act (SDWA), EPA sets standards for approximately 90 contaminants
in drinking water. For each of these contaminants, EPA sets a legal limit,
called a maximum contaminant level, or requires
a certain treatment. Water suppliers may not provide water that doesn't
meet these standards. Water that meets these standards is safe to drink,
although people with severely compromised immune
systems and children may have special
needs. For a more detailed description, read about how
standards are set or about EPA's Office of
Ground Water and Drinking Water.
Q. I don't like the taste/smell/appearance of my tap water. What's
wrong with it?
A. Even when water meets EPA's standards, you may still object to its
taste, smell, or appearance. EPA sets secondary
standards based on these aesthetic characteristics (not health effects)
which water systems and states can choose to adopt. Common complaints
about water aesthetics include temporary cloudiness (typically caused
by air bubbles) or chlorine taste (which can be improved by letting the
water stand exposed to the air).
Q. I'm worried about a specific drinking water contaminant [lead,
Cryptosporidium, nitrate, radon, etc.]. What should I know?
Drinking water, including bottled water, may reasonably be expected to
contain at least small amounts of some contaminants. As long as they occur
below EPA's standards, they don't pose a significant threat to health,
although people with severely compromised immune systems and children
may have special needs. For more information about a specific contaminant,
see EPA's fact sheets on drinking water contaminants,
which have more detailed information on every contaminant EPA currently
sets standards for and those EPA is considering setting standards for.
Q. What if I have a severely compromised immune system?
A. Some people may be more vulnerable to contaminants in drinking water
than the general population. People with severely compromised immune systems,
such as people with cancer undergoing chemotherapy, people who have undergone
organ transplants, people with HIV/AIDS or other immune system disorders,
some elderly, and infants can be particularly at risk from infections.
These people should seek advice about drinking water from their health
care providers. EPA/Centers for Disease Control
guidelines on appropriate means to lessen the risk of infection from
Cryptosporidium and other microbial contaminants offer more detailed advice.
Q. What should I do if I have my own drinking water well?
A.: If you have your own well, you are responsible for making sure that
your water is safe to drink. Private wells should be tested annually for
nitrate and coliform bacteria to detect contamination problems early.
Test more frequently and for other contaminants, such as radon or pesticides,
if you suspect a problem. Check with your local health department and
local public water systems that use ground water to learn more about well
water quality in your area and what contaminants you are more likely to
find. More information is available on EPA's
page for private well owners . You can help protect your water supply
by carefully managing activities near the water source. The organization
Farm*A*Syst/Home*A*Syst provides information to help farmers and rural residents
assess pollution risks and develop management plans to meet their unique
Q. What about bottled water?
A.: Bottled water is not necessarily safer than your tap water. EPA sets
standards for tap water provided by public water systems; the Food and
Drug Administration sets bottled water standards based on EPA's tap water
standards. Bottled water and tap water are both safe to drink if they
meet these standards, although people with severely
compromised immune systems and children
may have special needs. Some bottled water is treated more than tap water,
while some is treated less or not treated at all. Bottled water costs
much more than tap water on a per gallon basis. Bottled water is valuable
in emergency situations (such as floods and earthquakes), and high quality
bottled water may be a desirable option for people with weakened immune
systems. Consumers who choose to purchase bottled water should carefully
read its label to understand what they are buying, whether it is a better
taste, or a certain method of treatment.
More information on bottled water is available from the International Bottled Water Association,
which represents most US bottlers.
Q. What about home water treatment units?
A.: Most people do not need to treat their drinking water at home to make
it safe. A home water treatment unit can improve water's taste, or provide
an extra margin of safety for people more vulnerable to the effects of
waterborne illness (people with severely compromised
immune systems and children may
have special needs). Consumers who choose to purchase a home water treatment
unit should carefully read its product information to understand what
they are buying, whether it is a better taste or a certain method of treatment.
Be certain to follow the manufacturer's instructions for operation and
maintenance, especially changing the filter on a regular basis. EPA neither
endorses nor recommends specific home water treatment units. EPA does
register units that make germ-killing claims (contact the National Antimicrobial
Information Network at 800/447-6349 for more information). No single unit
takes out every kind of drinking water contaminant; you must decide which
type best meets your needs.
For help in picking a unit, contact one of the following independent non-profit
NSF International (877/8-NSF-HELP),
the Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (888-547-8851),
and the Water Quality Association
(630-505-0160). Both NSF International and Underwriters Laboratories Inc.
test and certify home water treatment units. The Water Quality Association
classifies units according to the contaminants they remove as well as listing
units that have earned their “Gold Seal” approval. Water treatment
units certified by these organizations will indicate certification on their
packaging or labels.
Q. Where does my drinking water come from?
A. Drinking water can come from either ground water sources (via wells)
or surface water sources (such as rivers, lakes, and streams). Nationally,
most water systems use a ground water source (80%), but most people (66%)
are served by a water system that uses surface water. This is because
large metropolitan areas tend to rely on surface water, whereas small
and rural areas tend to rely on ground water. In addition, 10-20% of people
have their own private well for drinking water. To find the source of
your drinking water, check your annual water quality report or call your
water supplier. You can get more information about specific watersheds
by visiting EPA's Watershed Information
Network. You can also learn more about EPA, state, and other efforts
to protect sources of drinking water.
Q. How can I help protect my drinking water?
A.: Drinking water protection is a community-wide effort, beginning with
protecting the source of your water, and including education, funding,
and conservation. Many communities already have established source water
protection programs. Call your local water supplier to find out if your
community participates. You can also support efforts to improve operation,
maintenance, and construction of water treatment processes. States are
now engaged in source water assessments, to work with communities to identify
local sources of contamination. You can contact your state
source water protection program to find out how to get involved in
this process, or join a local group in Adopting
Q. How many public water systems are there in the United States?
A. There are almost 170,000 public water systems in the United States.
Visit EPA's page of water system facts
and figures for more information.
Q: Where can I get more information?
A.: For more information on your drinking water, contact your water supplier.
You can also contact:
EPA has also prepared a citizen's guide to drinking water called Water
on Tap: What You Need To Know.
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