Your Drinking Water is Safe, Probably

Child blocking water tap

Most of us drink tap water every day with confidence. If you drink well water, you probably already test your water. If you don’t, I hope you will start. If you drink municipal water, you probably have certified, conscientious professionals ensuring that your water is clean and safe to drink. Most of us are fine drinking tap water—except when we aren’t.

The spread of E. coli through Walkerton, Ontario, in 2000 was a failure of management and enforcement that led directly to deaths. As a result, water quality regulation has been improved across Canada, though a report this year says the water supply is still vulnerable.

If you have seen the documentary Gasland, you have seen tap water set on fire. This is an ongoing concern. As long as gas fracking continues, we will continue to see more well water become undrinkable.

Yes, usually tap water is OK, but it doesn’t hurt to know exactly what we are drinking.

Why Not Just Drink Bottled Water?

Bottled water is a marvel of modern marketing. Water distributors sell us extreme convenience wrapped in tiny, one-time-use plastic bottles when we could just turn on the tap and fill our own reusable bottles, which probably says more about the negative publicity concerning tap water than the convenience of the packaging. Unless we know there is something wrong with our tap water that cannot be corrected through filtration, there isn’t a need to buy bottled water.

How to Evaluate Your Drinking Water

Don’t just assume that you need a serious water filtration system. Even if you suspect that you do need a system or you just want to filter water to improve taste, you should still test to see what you are filtering for.

You can get a very simple drinking water test that gives you results at home, or you can send a sample of your water to an outside lab. Before you spend several hundred dollars on a lab test, start with a home test to see if there are any indications of trouble. The cost of a lab test depends on what exactly you test for, so you need to know where to start. You may even want to call a lab first to get their recommendations, but be careful that they don’t try to sell you more than you need.

Later this week, I’ll tell you about a range of home water filtration systems you might consider and why.


Safe Drinking Water Foundation has extensive resources for education, policy, and even testing across Canada.

Environmental Working Group has rated U.S. tap water by city. Their focus is policy improvement, but they also have consumer resources for those of us with niggling doubts.

Image © Bokan |

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