Drinking Water FAQs

Where does drinking water come from?

The kitchen sink, drinking fountain, or refrigerator water filter? All good answers… but let’s back up a few steps and consider the journey that water’s traveled before it gets to you in usable form!

Your drinking water could have originated in one of two places: from surface water (lakes, rivers, and reservoirs), or from groundwater (from an underground aquifer pumped to the surface via a well). In the state of Iowa, both situations exist. For instance, Des Moines’s source is surface water (the Des Moines and Raccoon Rivers), while Dubuque’s source is groundwater (the Alluvial and Cambrian-Ordovician aquifers). The origination source depends on a number of factors, including the proximity to surface water bodies, abundance of local groundwater resources, and the surrounding geography/geology.

Is tap water actually safe to drink?

In 1974, the US Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act, which provides protection of our country’s public drinking water supplies, by setting water quality standards and ensuring that appropriate treatment techniques are in place. Depending on the water source, your drinking water may be treated in different ways before it gets to your faucet; it may be filtered through layers of sand, soil, and rock, or it may pass through a multi-step water treatment facility. Read about water treatment techniques and an interesting history of water treatment from the United States Environmental Protection Agency: The History of Drinking Water Treatment.

How clean is my local drinking water?

Community water systems are required to publish drinking water quality reports annually that summarize their water source, susceptibility to contamination, and how the water system fares compared to water quality standards. Visit the EPA’s Annual Drinking Water Quality Reports web page for more information about where to find your community’s most recent report (some are available online, others by request).

Isn’t bottled water safer than tap water?

No. There’s a whole lot of marketing involved to get us to think that! The Natural Resources Defense Council conducted a four-year review of the bottled water industry and the safety standards that govern it, and independent testing of over 1,000 bottles of water. They concluded that there is no assurance that bottled water is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap. Much bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle … sometimes further treated, sometimes not. Tap water is tested more frequently and rigorously; for instance, bottled water plants must test for coliform bacteria just once a week, while big-city tap water must be tested 100 or more times a month. Then there’s also the issue of chemicals leaching from plastic bottles; for more on that topic, take a look at our enhanced learning activity Tap Into Persuasion.

Can I visit a water treatment facility?

Many communities will offer tours of their water treatment facilities upon request. Water treatment plants are fascinating places to visit, and they can help us see the “big picture” as to where our water comes from, along with the systems in place to ensure safe drinking water for all!