7 Questions To Ask Your Elected Officials About Tap Water
Most utilities provide water that gets a passing grade from the government, but that doesn’t mean there’s no need to worry about contamination or that your water can't be better. One of the best ways to push for cleaner water is to hold elected officials who have a say in water quality accountable – from city hall and the state legislature, to Congress, all the way to the Oval Office – by asking questions and demanding answers.
Here are seven questions with which we suggest starting.
1. What’s in my tap water?
Does your mayor, city councilmember or state representative know what are the biggest concerns for your local tap water? Do they realize that even if tap water meets federal standards, that doesn’t mean it’s free of potentially harmful contaminants? It could still contain neurotoxic or cancer-causing chemicals, many of which are not covered under federal drinking water regulations. Millions of Americans drink tap water with contaminants at levels that, while legal, could still pose a risk to health. Ask your local officials and your water utility to test more extensively than either state or federal regulations require. Broader testing provides a better picture of what’s in your water.
2. Why are these contaminants in my water?
The first question is whether the contaminants come from a local source, such as an abandoned waste site; or underground storage tanks and septic tanks; or from the entire watershed, which would include fertilizers and pesticides. Tap water contaminants could be in the river or groundwater that supplies your system, but not be removed by treatment processes before being piped to your home. Some contaminants are produced by the treatment process itself. Understanding the source of the problem is the first step toward addressing it.
3. How is our water system removing contaminants?
Make sure that elected officials do their homework about drinking water quality and know what water treatment methods already exist at your local utility, as well as what additional treatments may need to be installed to ensure good quality water. Most water systems use a basic process to treat water that removes larger particles by sedimentation and filtration, followed by disinfection to kill disease-causing pathogens. However, this conventional water treatment approach cannot remove many types of contaminants, such as the fertilizer chemical nitrate, volatile solvents such as the dry cleaning chemical perc, or radioactive substances. Many water systems install additional treatment, for example granular activated carbon to treat pesticides. Advanced treatment can remove many contaminants and increasingly, water utilities and the communities they serve are investing in such equipment to provide better water. These technologies require long-term planning and financing, and involving local officials early and often is essential.
4. How are you investing in better water treatment technology and ensuring better water quality going forward?
Tell your elected officials that investment in protecting drinking water quality must happen at all levels of government. At the local level, a change in the process used at a water treatment plant can make a big difference, and scientists are working on new and improved technologies to treat tap water. But such changes and technologies can be expensive to adopt, particularly for small water utilities, so state and federal support for water infrastructure is essential. At the national level, water quality could be improved by better protecting source water, expanding testing requirements and establishing health-protective standards for unregulated chemicals.
5. What are you doing to create sustainable funding for our water systems?
Make sure that your elected officials are budgeting for the water treatment needed now and in future. U.S. water systems are in urgent need of investment. In its 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the nation’s water infrastructure a "D." According to research by the the Environmental Protection Agency Water Infrastructure and Resiliency Finance Center, the U.S. needs to invest more than $600 billion in water infrastructure improvements over the next 20 years. Without a sustainable source of funding, our water infrastructure will continue to age and our water quality will suffer.
6. How are you protecting our source water to keep pollution from getting into water in the first place?
So far, both Congress and state legislatures have failed to require important source water protection measures like buffer zones around rivers and reservoirs, forcing water utilities to invest heavily in treatment, which is expensive and can lead to disinfection byproducts that are harmful to health themselves. Tell your officials that source water protection is a must for ensuring long-term water quality and making sure that we have enough water to drink.
7. How are you making sure that good, clean water remains affordable for all residents?
Every American deserves access to safe, clean, affordable drinking water from the tap. Meeting this challenge won’t be easy – local water utilities are dealing with increased source contamination, and state and federal agencies are facing constrained budgets. That’s why advocacy has never been more important. Letting officials at all levels know that you care about safe, affordable tap water will help keep the issue on the agenda and help ensure that all Americans have water they can count on.