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Water 101 - From Water Filters to Bottled Water, Storing and Conserving

Safe Drinking Water and Making Tap Water Drinkable

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Water is a necessity of life and while water can come from many sources including bottled, municipal systems, rain water or ground water from wells or springs, not all water is considered potable and safe to drink. How safe your water is depends on several factors and what standards it is measured against.

In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets water quality standards and testing schedules under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). It also provides helpful information for consumers as to certain water contaminants to alleviate concerns regarding safe drinking water.

According to the EPA, most states and territories directly oversee the water systems that are within their borders. If you are on a municipal or other public water system, it can be assumed that your water is subject to these water quality standards and treated before it reaches your tap as safe drinking water.

However, if you have any doubts as to the health of your water supply, you should ask your water system provider for a copy of their most recent water report. You can also take your investigation a step further by having your water tested by an approved water laboratory. Learn more about water testing from the EPA.

However, when it comes down to taste, even treated water can leave an undesirable aftertaste. But there are simple solutions for making tap water drinkable. And there's also a downside to buying bottled water; it too can leave a bad taste in your mouth.

For those in rural areas and on private ground wells, lake or river water source, in the absence of federal or state/province regulation and oversight of water quality, the onus is on the consumer to ensure that their water is safe to drink. There are solutions for treating water from raw water sources.  

This article looks at solutions for the consumer to improve the taste or quality of their water, as well as to make treated tap water drinkable. The term 'drinkable' is subject to interpretation; not all potable water is drinkable, when it comes to taste.

1. After a Disaster, Making Your Tap Water Safe to Drink

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If you are on a treated municipal or public water system, occasionally these water plants can fail and contaminants can enter the water supply, or a natural disaster such as a flood, storm or earthquake can cause your water source to become contaminated and unsafe to drink. In these situations, your first priority is making tap water drinkable.

Boiling water is often a temporary measure, until your local water authorities can restore the water quality of your drinking water. Making your tap water drinkable involves at the very least, boiling it for at least a minute. Follow the link to instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention below, to make your water safe to drink. You should also monitor your local news to know when your tap water is once again drinkable.

Every home should be prepared for emergencies or a natural disaster with a ready-to-use disaster kit.  Beyond the basics like bottled water, medications, blankets, flashlights and such, what else should go into your disaster kit will depend on your family's special dietary or medical needs. 

2. Conserving Water: Practical Water Conservation Tips

Whether you are trying to conserve water because your supply is limited after a disaster or from a low dug well source, or you simply want to save money because you are on metered water rates, there are practical ways to save water. And while some may seem trivial, every gallon of water not used, is more money in your pocket. 

3. Activated Carbon Filters: Making Tap Water Drinkable

Even though your tap water from a municipal or public water system is treated and safe to drink, it doesn't guarantee water that is pleasant to drink. Treated drinking water that meets water quality standards can have an unpleasant taste and it can also smell bad. That can happen when there are odor-causing particulates in the water, a chemical residue such as chlorine, or the water source naturally has an unpleasant taste.

Water filtration treatment generally eliminates bacteria and other contaminants in the water to reduce the exposure to health risks; it does not fully address such things as taste, smell and water clarity.  In some cases, there can be unpleasant particulates that remain in treated water.

Solutions for making tap water drinkable or more palatable range from using basic carbon filtration in way carbon-filtered water pitchers, installing a point-of-use faucet filter or a carbon filter at your home's water point-of-entry.  That should address taste, odor and clarity, but it really depends on the design of the carbon filter, whether it's a single or multi-stage system, as well as the type of carbon filtration.  Though carbon filters can solve these minor water issues, you should understand that there are limitations to the effectiveness of carbon water filtration.

If you suspect that your treated and carbon-filtered drinking water may still contain harmful viruses, bacteria or other pollutants, you could have your water tested to confirm or allay those fears, and/or you can install a combined carbon filter plus another form of water filtration system to further reduce your exposure to harmful pollutants.

4. When Carbon Filters Are Inadequate: Water Filtration Options

If you suspect that your treated drinking water may still contain harmful viruses, bacteria or other pollutants, you could have your water tested to confirm or allay those fears, at which point you can report those findings to your water treatment agency.  You should also be able to requet their latest water quality report. 

Or you can install a combined carbon filter plus another form of water filtration system to give your peace of mind and further reduce your exposure to harmful pollutants. Water filtration system options include using a water distiller, reverse osmosis or UV light filtration. These water systems usually include some form of carbon filtration.  Your area water specialist could advise you regarding the best approach for your particular water situation.  Or you can buy a small water filtration system that meets your needs. 

Some home water filtration systems require professional installation but there small units that require little or no tools in install and get up and going.  There are point-of-entry whole home units, or you can choose a point-of-use unit to filter only a particular tap for drinking water.

5. Water from Wells, Rivers, Lakes: Raw Water Source Treatment

When your water is drawn from ground water, dug well, lake or river, what is in the water is a mystery, unless you have your water properly tested. Testing usually includes decontaminating your water intake system prior to taking a water sample. Your local approved water testing facility will provide you with detailed instructions on preparing to sample, how to take a water sample, as well as give you sterile bottles for sampling.

Costs of having water tested are usually minimal and the lab results will confirm the contents of your water, from which a water treatment specialist can best advise you regarding treatment options. Water filtration systems can include installing a point-of-entry water filtration system that is either installed, monitored and serviced regularly by a water specialist, or installing a smaller system that you can maintain yourself, using combined water filtration technologies to ensure your tap water is drinkable. However, even treated tap water may have chemical residue or odor that makes it less desirable to drink and may prompt a further step for making tap water drinkable.

6. Bottled Water: Safety Concerns

During emergencies, bottled water concerns present no issue because of the practical convenience and essential nature of this drinking water source.  And every household should have bottled water in their disaster or emergency kits.

But concerns have been raised regarding bottled water for several reasons.  The quality of the water and whether it meets current water quality standards, possible exposure to BPA from the plastic drinking bottles and the recycling of plastic water bottles. There's also a fourth issue - cost.  Bottled water costs are high and this can be a drain on the food budget.

7. Storing or Dispensing Water

It's a good idea to store water in sealed bottled water form or by drawing safe drinking water and keeping it stored for use during power outages or probable emergencies.  While sealed water bottles can usually be stored indefinitely, you should ensure they are not subject to freezing which can cause particulates to separate - leaving an unpleasant taste, nor should they be exposed to sun which can break down the plastics and cause exposure to harmful pollutants.

Water stored in refillable containers should be refreshed (water replaced) at least every six months.  It should also be protected from freezing or heat from the sun or other source.  You should also disinfect refillable water containers regularly with a tablespoon of bleach to a gallon of water and allow that to sit for a couple of minutes in the container.  Rinse thoroughly before refilling with drinking water.

For personal use, use safe drinking bottles, such as BPA-free plastic water bottles, stainless steel or alumimun drinking bottles. Only BPA-free baby bottles should be used for infants.

Water dispensers and coolers have become very popular for convenient access to cold drinking water.  While the convenience of water coolers and dispensers is not at issue, it's the water quality of the large prefilled water bottles that causes some concern. Consumers should ensure that large water bottles purchased for dispensers or coolers is safe to drink.  Read water labels or inquire from the water distributor to reduce your exposure to harmful pollutants.  One solution is to either refill your own large dispenser bottles with safe drinking water and disinfect the plastic bottle regularly.

8. Buying Water Appliances, Parts and Resources

If you have a carbon filter, water distiller or other water quality appliance, it can be tough to find replacement parts and filters.  Other water related household items such as faucet repair parts can also be difficult to locate.  In some cases, you may need help or instructions to solve a water product problem. This resource hopefully will provide sources of information or parts.

When buying any form of water quality appliance or filter, you should read reviews and understand its benefits, features and limitations.  You Should also ensure that any electric water appliance meets electrical standards and is safe to use.

9. Hard Water Solutions

Hard water is the result of too many minerals, namely calcium and magnesium, in your water.  While some mineral content is what gives water a refreshingly good taste, too much mineral content causes problems. Water filtration will not generally remedy this problem, with the exception of reverse osmosis.

While hard water does not pose health risks, it can result in mineral limescale build-up that without proper care, can reduce the life of appliances and products, or cause annoying rust-colored water stains in kitchen sinks and bathroom fixtures. 

It can also reduce the efficiency of personal care soaps, and laundry or dishwasher detergents which dissolve and work better when water is soft. Water filters and humidifier filters can also clog up more quickly when water is hard and require filter changes more often.  Consumers with hard water need to be proactive when it comes to changing appliance filters, cleaning coffee makers and general water-related appliance maintenance to reduce scale deposits.

Hard water solutions include installing a whole-home water softener or water conditioner and using descaling solutions to remove mineral deposits from appliances and fixtures.  A water specialist is best suited to advise you whether your home needs a water softener or conditioner, depending on the amount of minerals in your water. 

When the concentration of mineral is light, these appliances may not be necessary; a good regimen of appliance care and descaling may suffice.  I've also included some helpful sites that provide good explanations of hard water and offer solutions.

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