(May 6-12, 2018) is observed each year in May to recognize the critical role drinking water plays in our daily lives. This year’s theme, “Protect the Source,” encourages people to learn more about the source of their drinking water and why its protection is critical to our health.
Have you ever stopped to think about how many times a day you use water from a faucet? Drinking water refers to the water that comes out of our tap or bottled water. Americans use drinking water many times a day, every day, for many different activities such as drinking, bathing, cooking, and washing clothes, to name a few. The United States has one of the safest drinking water supplies in the world, and it’s important to know how that water gets to our faucets and what makes it safe to use.
However, new challenges require us to continue to work to protect our water supply. Drinking water systems in the United States are aging, and most are long overdue for replacement.
During Drinking Water Week, learn more about where your drinking water comes from, what makes it safe to use, and what CDC is doing to address challenges to our water supply.
Keeping Tap Water Safe and Healthy
Over the last 100 years, many improvements in the health, success, and lifespan of the U.S. population can be linked to improvements in water quality. Providing safe drinking water was one of the most important public health achievements of the 20th century.1 Water treatment and disinfection (methods to get rid of germs or chemicals that cause illness) has helped ensure access to healthy and safe water for millions of Americans.
Government regulations have helped reduce pollution of the bodies of water that supply our drinking water systems over the years. However, treating water to remove or kill contaminants like germs or chemicals is still critical to make sure that water is safe to drink. Contamination of drinking water sources can occur at multiple points, including:
In the original water source (for example, a river).
Through inadequate water treatment.
In storage tanks.
In drinking water distribution systems (the pipes that carry water to homes, businesses, schools, and other buildings).
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates drinking water quality in public water systems. Every public water system is required to provide its customers with an annual consumer confidence report (CCR), which provides information on local drinking water quality.
In addition, CDC’s Environmental Public Health Tracking Network has information and data about some of the most common environmental chemicals that may be found in community water supplies.
Drinking Water and Private Wells
EPA regulations do not apply to privately owned wells, although some states do regulate private wells. As a result, millions of Americans who get their water from private wells are responsible for ensuring that their water is safe from contaminants. A local health department or well water system professional can provide assistance on well maintenance, new well construction, and water quality testing.
Water System Challenges
Drinking water systems in the United States are up to 100 years old in some places. Cracked pipes, water main breaks, and other age-related issues increase the chance for germs or chemicals to get into the water and can lead to boil water advisories. The American Water Works Association has estimated that it will cost nearly $1 trillion in the next 25 years[2.35 MB] to repair and expand our drinking water systems to meet the demands of a growing population. Other challenges include warming temperatures, which can affect our water supply, and contamination of water sources with chemicals and toxins.
What CDC Is Doing
CDC works to address these drinking water challenges through its water-related research, prevention, and policy activities and programs, including:
Research on Health Impacts
Providing support for state, local, and tribal health officials to investigate, report, and prevent illnesses associated with drinking water.
Estimating the number of illnesses and costs associated with waterborne disease and outbreaks and ongoing exposures.
Identifying the health impacts of aging drinking water infrastructure and well water usage to develop strategies for improvement.
Tracking the epidemiology of established and emerging waterborne diseases.
Identifying and testing environmental factors that contribute to waterborne disease.
Developing improved laboratory methods for sampling, testing, and monitoring water quality.
Preventing Waterborne Disease and Protecting Public Health
Working with EPA, state and local health agencies, and other partners to provide guidance on drinking water policy and research priorities.
Working with national partners to provide technical assistance, training and guidance on improving safe drinking water programs.
Developing e-Learning courses to improve state and local safe drinking water programs.
Investigating whether disruptions in drinking water service (like a pipe break) affect water quality and people’s health.
Developing tools and resources to respond to water-related emergencies.
Supporting public health agencies to strengthen their drinking water programs and address problems with wells and other private drinking water sources.
Applying study findings to improve waterborne disease prevention outreach, education, policies, and practices.
Improving water quality data that can be used to identify risks, prevent exposures to harmful contaminants, and address community concerns.
Providing national leadership on community water fluoridation practice.