8 Ways to Protect Your Town's Water Supply

Aspen, CO (pictured here) has some of the healthiest drinking water in the US.  Photo: The Intrepid Traveler/Flikr.There are several towns in the U.S. that have a high standard of water quality, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. These towns include Aspen and Vail, Colorado; Georgetown, Texas; and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. These towns, by luck and by design, are well situated within healthy watersheds that have a low possibility of becoming polluted.

A number of important factors are involved in the creation of clean, healthy drinking water. First, water supplies come from underground aquifers, lakes, rivers, and sometimes desalinated sea water. Water is purified and disinfected with chlorine. Then the treated water flows either by pipes or gravity to reservoirs or water tanks. Once the water goes down the drain and into a sewer system, it is either treated and released back into a body of water, or used for agricultural or industrial purposes.

In order to have a reliable and continuous source of clean water, free of disease pathogens, municipalities need certain standards in place. As a consumer, it is also up to you to support efforts to protect your local water supply.

Here are 8 of the primary ways clean water supplies can be achieved:

1. Monitoring the water supply: Local environmental staff should be policing and inspecting watersheds on a regular basis. Environmental staff can include police, inspectors, laboratory technicians, lake crews, and foresters who work together to ensure the safety and quality of the ground water.

2. Your local land use commissioners, such as zoning and planning boards, should carefully review any applications that could affect water supplies: For example, while you may want to have a big box store built in your town, care must be taken to protect wetlands and aquifers. Large expanses of impermeable surfaces (parking lots) divert stormwater in such a way as to potentially harm nearby water sources. In addition, gasoline, oil and other chemicals may also be washed into the water supply.

3. Stormwater treatment systems: Developers should always submit (to land commission boards) detailed plans for stormwater treatment systems to minimize any potential harm to water supplies.

4. The creation of man-made wetlands: It often helps to support water supplies when wetlands must be diverted or removed, but it is important to remember that man-made wetlands can rarely do the job of wetlands that naturally occur.

5. Buying and protecting watershed lands: The more protected land you have, the greater your town’s ability to maintain a healthy water supply.

6. No dumping into storm drains. Never permit dumping into storm drains. Material that enters storm drains ends up directly in the watershed.

7. Proper disposal of household hazardous waste and medications: While wastewater treatment plants become increasingly sophisticated, it is impossible to filter out all chemicals and pharmaceuticals. Down the line, these will end up to varying degrees in your drinking supply. Cities and towns that support proper disposal of chemicals and educational efforts for its residents tend to have a healthier water supply. Learn how to properly dispose of paint and medication.

8. Maintenance of native vegetation alongside streams and wetlands: Maintain native local vegetation, which acts as a natural buffer, reducing pollutants and preventing erosion.

Keep in mind that you are a big part of whether your city or town has a clean and abundant water supply. Increased awareness, education, and participation in your local government are the keys.

Updated April 23, 2018.

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