What is meant by “water quality”?

Water quality is defined in terms of the biological, chemical, and physical content of the water. “Chemically pure” water, entirely free from any other materials, does not exist in nature.

Even distilled water contains naturally occurring substances – mostly bicarbonates, sulphates, sodium, chlorides, magnesium and potassium. Since water plays such a vital role in life on earth, good quality water is a precious resource. Often water quality is more important than water quantity. The quality of the water affects the use we make of it, but the reverse is also true. Once we have used the water, we affect its quality.

What is good quality drinking water?

Water that is free from disease-causing organisms, harmful chemical substances and radioactive matter. It must also taste good, look good and be free from unpleasant odour and colour.

How many different things can be tested in water?

A very small list of some things found in water include aluminum, asbestos, chlorine, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nickel and sodium. Some, such as fluoride and selenium are naturally occurring substances, although fluoride is also an additive.

How is water made suitable for drinking?

Raw lake water is pumped in from intakes and large particles and debris are moved by traveling screens just as the water enters the treatment plants.

There can be up to five different processes water goes through from the time it enters the plant to the time it is transported through the extensive system of water supply pipes, reservoirs and storage tanks. These steps are coagulation, filtration, disinfection, fluoridation (in some areas), and ammoniation.

When the water has passed through some or all of these processes, it is then pumped to an extensive distribution system.

How safe is well water and cistern water?

In rural areas, water is often trucked in by water supply companies to be stored in cisterns. This is treated municipal water and is safe for both drinking and bathing. However, if cistern water is collected off the roof, it is very crucial that it be purified before personal use or consumption. Well water should also be purified and health departments are advising that both well water and cistern water be tested monthly. Cisterns should also be cleaned out annually. Free water bottles for sample testing are available at the Public Health Department.

As a matter of fact, in light of the situation in Walkerton earlier this year, the public is being advised against drinking untreated spring water. Spring water is unfiltered, untreated and susceptible to contamination with bacteria such as total coliform and E. coli. This is because there is less soil to filter the surface water prior to entering the spring. Carbon filters also should not be used for well water or spring water filtering as bacteria can use the carbon as food and multiply, further contaminating the water.

What is the problem with water that goes through galvanized piping?

Galvanized piping rusts and corrodes internally. Therefore, water passing   through   galvanized   piping will collect particles of rust, zinc, and other contaminants that go right into your drinking water! These contaminants will also clog the pipes internally, which will cause a drop in water capacity and pressure, and eventually lead to the destruction of the piping system.

What is the difference between a water softener and a water purifier?

The purpose of a water softener is to soften the water throughout the whole house. Water softeners work by adding a special salt to the water, thus removing calcium, magnesium, and iron which can clog and stain. Inside the water softener are resin “beads”, like grains of sand, that the metals attach themselves to. The water softener is programmed to do a “backwash” process once a week that releases these metals and flushes them down the drain. The water softener is installed at the point of entry to the house, however, it does not purify drinking water.

Water purifiers remove the substances that can cause staining and foul odours. Some of these commonly found in a house include the following:

Reverse Osmosis System

This system is installed under the kitchen sink, is compact, with only the special drinking water faucet visible beside the regular sink faucet. It works on the incoming water pressure to the house and is very energy efficient since hydro is not required in the operation.

This system costs approximately $750 plus installation. Filters need to be changed yearly, costing about $76 and the membrane is changed every two to five years at a cost of roughly $125. The Reverse Osmosis System combined with a Water Softener is considered the “Perfect City Combo” designed to treat both working and drinking water. A Water Softener protects and aids the Reverse Osmosis production.

UltraViolet Sterilization

The UV light is a disinfection unit that kills bacteria and viruses. It is highly recommended for well water and cisterns, and now is also becoming popular with city applications. This unit is installed in the basement or where the main water line comes into the house and treats both drinking and working water. They are sized by flow rate (gallons per minute) and range in size from 5 gallons per minute up to 12 gallons per minute (standard size), for a family of 4 or more. It is recommended that a sediment filter be installed before the UV light to remove dirt, rust, etc. and to protect the light from damage. It is not recommended that these units are used in areas with hard water unless a water softener is also installed (before the UV system). Pricing for these units ranges from $500 to $700 depending on the size. It is recommended that the UV bulb be changed yearly, costing approximately $90.

Filtration Systems

Another method used to remove contaminants from water is called filtration. These systems are available in various forms from a simple system such as Brita, to counter top filter systems that attach to kitchen or bathroom faucets to under counter filters that are installed under the kitchen sink. The most common system found in homes today is the cartridge that hooks up to the cold water line in the basement and filters the water for the whole house. It is very inexpensive, costing approximately $50 for the unit. The carbon filters are about $9 each and must be changed every 3 months or 50,000 gallons of water. The filtration system, however, has a limited capacity regarding water treatment. The only contaminants that are removed are specifically related to the filter cartridge used and is not as thorough as a purification system.