World Water Day: Time for U.S. to Think About Water Quality Too

Mar 22, 2012, 8:07 PM, Posted by


Today is World Water Day and in remarks at the State Department, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pointed out that the U.S. is not immune to the issue. “We are pursuing this not only because we care about it around the world; we care about it here at home. We’ve had increasing problems meeting our own needs in the Desert Southwest or managing floods in the East. No country anywhere, no matter how developed, is immune to the challenges that we face,” said Clinton.

In the U.S. water crises are more likely to be linked to emergencies such as weather disasters that can interrupt or contaminate water supplies:

  • The largest waterborne disease outbreak in U.S. history was in Milwaukee in 1993 when over 400,000 people became ill with diarrhea when the parasite Cryptosporidium was found in the city's drinking water supply.
  • Treating water with chlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or liquid bleach will not kill all parasites that can contaminate water; boiling or appropriate filtration is required.
  • Floods and other disasters can damage drinking water wells and result in to aquifer and well contamination. Flood waters can contaminate well water with livestock waste, human sewage, chemicals, and other contaminants, which can lead to illness when used for drinking, bathing, and other hygiene activities.
  • All public water systems in the United States are required to follow the standards and regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • EPA regulations that protect public water systems do not apply to privately owned wells or any other individual water system. Owners of private wells are responsible for ensuring that their well water is safe from contaminants.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers guidance on now to prepare safe water supplies before an event, and how to handle contaminated water emergencies after a disaster.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.