Water Quality


Nationwide, nearly 53% of all drinking water comes underground from wells while 47% comes aboveground from lakes, rivers, and reservoirs.

Americans enjoy one of the best supplies of drinking water in the world, due, in large part, to strict regulations and standards enforced by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the 50 states. Even so, a water system may meet all EPA safe water standards and still have problems consumers might find objectionable. Despite the best efforts of officials, some water supplies do not meet all applicable standards. Also, the EPA does not regulate water taste, odor or appearance.

Consequently, a number of households may suffer from some kind of correctable water problem that is not regulated. Each problem can bring its own unpleasant effects into a home. Rusting and corroded pipes, clothing stains, bad-tasting and smelling water, and higher water heating bills are just a few of the possible results of problem water.

Many consumers do not realize that water problems can be solved in their home or business at the point-of-use or point-of-entry. Point-of-use (POU) refers to water quality improvement equipment which can be installed in water faucets or in pitchers/containers filled with water, usually for drinking and cooking. Point-of-entry (POE), often called "whole house" treatment, refers to water quality improvement equipment that can be installed where the water enters the home or business.

Identifying the Problem
Finding the solution for a drinking water problem or discovering the ideal water quality "fit" for personal needs can be simple with the proper information. Water quality may differ from city to city, well to well, or home to home. Your water quality problem may not be the same as those of a next door neighbor or relative across town. The key is to match the particular water quality problem with the most efficient and effective point-of-use (POU)/point-of-entry (POE) solution.

Some of the more common problems that can affect water supplies are listed below:

  • IRON—It takes just a trace of iron in water to cause trouble. Iron, in amounts of only 0.2 to 0.3 parts per million, can stain plumbing fixtures and laundry. In larger amounts, the water itself may appear rust colored and taste extremely unpleasant.

  • CLOUDY WATER—When dissolved in water, some materials create an unappealing cloudiness that is far from the clear, sparkling liquid most people desire. Besides being unpleasant to look at and drink, cloudy water may contain minerals or particles which could erode pipes and stain sinks, plumbing fixtures, and clothing.

  • NATURALLY OCCURRING CONTAMINANTS—Some contaminating elements may occur naturally in water. These elements include radium, barium, and cadmium.

  • MAN-MADE CONTAMINANTS—Health-related contaminants from such sources as pesticides, industrial waste, landfills, underground storage tanks, and human and animal waste have been found in some private and public water supplies. [When man-made contaminants are found, a local water utility usually brings in the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to help deal with the problem.]


Water systems serving the same people year round are required to prepare annual water quality reports, or consumer confidence reports. These reports list all contaminants detected in drinking water and how they compare to EPA drinking water standards found at www.epa.gov. You can get these reports directly from your water supplier, or they may be posted on EPA's web site at www.epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo.htm. Also visit the above site to contact your water superintendent. NOTE: If you use well water, ask your local or state health department if it offers free water testing. Most of these departments will offer free testing for bacterial contaminants.

Before seeking independent water testing, get your local water report from your water supplier. If you do need independent testing, it’s wise to contact a laboratory from the EPA’s state laboratory certification officer list available on-line at www.epa.gov/safewater/faq/sco.html.

Hard Water
Much of the fresh water on earth is groundwater. As it travels through rock and soil, it picks up particles of calcium, magnesium, iron, lead, and other minerals. The "hardness" of water refers to the amount of calcium and magnesium in the water and is measured in grains per gallon (gpg), where a grain is a measurement of weight, or in parts per million (ppm) (17.1 ppm = 1 gpg).

In areas where the source of water is very hard, the local water utility may soften it to about 5 or 6 grains per gallon—still moderately hard. But, since the cost of centrally softening water is so great, many utilities and water companies generally leave the resolution of any hard water problems up to the homeowner or business person.

Hard Water Warning Signs
Following are some "telltale" signs of hard water which could indicate a problem:

  • CLOGGED APPLIANCES AND PIPES: Hard water minerals can form in appliances, such as a coffeemaker, and can build up in your pipes and plumbing equipment. This buildup can reduce water flow, as well as increase the frequency of repairs.

  • INCREASED WATER HEATING COSTS: When hard water is heated, the minerals in it precipitate (leave the water) and form scale. Besides building up in teakettles and coffee makers, mineral deposits can form an insulation barrier inside your water heater, resulting in more money being spent to heat the same amount of water.

  • DECREASED SUDSING OF SOAPS AND DETERENTS: The calcium and magnesium in hard water act on many soaps and detergents to reduce their sudsing and cleaning abilities. The soapy residue they form is abrasive, and can reduce the life of garments by clinging to and weakening clothing fibers.

  • INCREASED RESIDUE ON BATHTUBS & SHOWER TILES: The residue formed by soap and hard water can create unwanted sticky film on bathtubs and shower tiles.

Water Softening Solutions
Hard water is generally softened in the home by a process called ion exchange water softening. As the water passes through a resin bed, the calcium and magnesium ions in hard water are exchanged for sodium ions, producing water softened to the desired level. Besides providing softened water, ion exchange may reduce sediment, iron, manganese, barium, and radium levels in the water as it enters the home.

Some water softening solution technologies include:

Permanent, fully-automatic soft water units installed at the point-of-entry (POE), generally featuring a brine tank and resin regeneration. An automatic unit recharges according to a preset time clock, or may use an electronic sensor that recharges the system according to water usage.

A soft water service (exchange tank) provides water conditioning equipment whereby the dealer hooks up a portable unit to a water line, replacing it as needed to maintain the desired water softness.

Avoiding Water Filter Fraud
If you have any reason to suspect your water supply is contaminated, contact your state officials. They have the most direct enforcement authority over water systems. Calling the EPA Hotline at 800.426.4791 or going online at www.epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo.htm can get you state program contact information. Also, to avoid falling for water filter fraud, a red flag should go up anytime a salesperson or telemarketer suggests any of the following:

  1. The water in your area is contaminated —Some unscrupulous dealers or salespeople may suggest that water in your area contains dangerous impurities such as lead or pesticides. If you do have any reason to suspect that your local water supply is dangerous, first call the EPA’s safe drinking water hotline at 800.426.4791.

  2. Their water-filtration products are certified or recommended by the U.S. government—The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) is the provider of certification of water treatment systems.

  3. An offer for an in-home test to check the safety of your water—In-home water tests can often be used by con artists to create a false impression that you must purchase a water filter to protect your and your family’s health.

  4. 4. Their company’s water filter doesn’t require maintenance—All water filtration devices require some form of maintenance, although it may be as simple as the occasional filter change.

  5. Their water filters remove all known contaminants—No water purification device can take out every contaminant known to man.

  6. You have won a prize but you have not entered any contest—Some sellers will suggest that you have won a free gift or a prize, and that you must buy a water filter in order to be eligible to redeem the prize. After inquiring about your prize, you may find that the water filtration device costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, while the prize you “won” may be worth very little.

How to Protect Yourself
If you are a victim of a water-filter scam, there are many groups that you can contact for help:

  • File online complaints with the Better Business Bureau. The BBB you file a complaint to must be located near the offending company’s headquarters.

  • Write to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at the following address: Correspondence Branch Federal Trade Commission, Washington, D.C. 20580 or call the FTC’s Consumer Help Line at 877.382.4357

  • Contact the consumer division of your state’s attorney general’s office.

Outside Contacts
To learn more about water quality, contact the following:


at 877.FTC.HELP (877.382.4357)


WATER QUALITY ASSOCIATION at 800.749.0234, Technical Issues: 630.505.0160

If you find any of the web sites listed above to be inactive, please contact the respective organization. Also, be aware that the above phone numbers may be subject to change without notice.