The most common questions we receive as water treatment professionals are, “What is healthy water?” Or “Is my water healthy?”  

Naturally, water itself is extremely healthy. It’s all of the impurities in your water that deem it unhealthy. Ultimately, about how much risk and uncertainty you can tolerate in your water. The good news is with each treatment, layers of risk and impurities are removed.

Where does your water come from?

In southeastern Wisconsin, your water comes from one of two sources – surface water, think Lake Michigan or Lake Winnebago, or from a well. Wells are either private or from are a series of municipal wells – like Waukesha water.

In raw form, I wouldn’t deem any of these types of water suitably safe or healthy. Drinking a cup-full of water straight from Lake Michigan or just a random well does not sound too appetizing to me.

By the time these hit your home, most of those surface water sources are municipal and the majority of folks inland in Wisconsin are receiving water from a municipal well. Treat community wells as municipal-lite sources of water. They are regulated to some degree and are tested depending on how many people share the water and some other factors.

What are the laws and regulations?

For the municipal water folks, the EPA outlines some minimum standards via the Safe Water Drinking Act. They also outline secondary guidelines that are recommendations to the consumer.  Here are some key points to take from the EPA guidelines and standards:

  • On a primary level, the EPA regulates some very specific testing such as bacteria testing
  • The primary guidelines are there to take out the pathogens and other unwanted items. For example, the radium in Waukesha water
  • The EPA has one-size-fits-all statements for water quality across the country
  • According to the EPA, nearly all of southeastern Wisconsin fits into their group of places with more than 500 parts per million of stuff in the drinking water who should be seeking secondary treatment.
  • 1% of your water bill is water that you actually drink. The Safe Water Drinking Act’s Secondary Guidelines advise on how to treat that vital 1% of your water that you actually consume.

Municipal water forces you into a “Healthy Water v. Legal Water” distinction. So, a byproduct of disinfecting water is that you create undesirable results.  An example is dibromochloromethane in Milwaukee water.  The health limit is 0.4 ppb. The legal limit is 80 ppb.  Milwaukee has averaged being at 400% of the healthy limit, but that’s legal under the Safe Water Drinking Act.

Bottom line, would I drink municipal water with no further filtration? Absolutely not. However, I would drink it before drinking from Lake Michigan or straight out of a well because neither would have biological protection.

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