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Do low water levels mean low water quality?

There are many variables in drinking water quality. Although the United States has some of the best drinking water in the world, our nation continually deals with contamination and water quality. We see this happening in the news, in publications, and even in politics. But one of the lesser known variables is the weather and temperature – specifically droughts. Droughts, according to a recent article from, can have four major impacts on drinking water and the aquatic or human life it comes into contact with. Likewise, past droughts exposed vulnerabilities in the state’s public water supply, highlighting a need for water use planning and management.
The worst U.S. drought since 1956 has recently been affecting the taste, smell and appearance of tap water across the country. The first way a drought can impact drinking water is worsening sediment runoff during much-needed rainfall. As the article explains, dry earth does not absorb water as well soil that already contains some moisture. When summer storms cause sudden rainfall, more soils in drought stricken areas wash into rivers and streams than would have in non-drought conditions. This extra sediment causes what we call turbidity problems. High turbidity may not be completely dangerous; however there is a Safe Drinking Water Act standard for turbidity because the condition sets utilities up for other problems, including bacterial growth within the distribution system.
Second, warm surface water and the extra sediment cause algae and bacteria growth. Low water levels and high temperatures lead to breeding grounds for unusual algae or pond-scum. For example, Wisconsin public health officials are concerned that the algae “can produce cyanotoxins that remain in the lake for weeks—long after the algae bloom disperses. These toxins can pose numerous health risks for aquatic–bound life, including humans, if it comes into contact with the skin, or is ingested.”  As explained, “Extra bacteria and unusual algae means water utilities and natural resource officials must add extra treatment chemicals to water supplies. Extreme chlorination is one of the complaints of residents in Darien, Connecticut, where discolored water and conflicting advice from authorities is alarming residents.”
Third, as the quantity of water in reservoirs and lakes fall, concentrations of dissolved toxins rise. Nitrates, sulfites and any other soluble chemical dumped into waterways could be drawn into drinking water supplies at a higher ratio than normal, burdening filtration plants.  This, too, can compromise the overall quality and put extra pressure on filtration systems.
Lastly, the increased acidity in the water intensifies toxic effects on wildlife. As water levels drop, acidity levels of surface waterways increase. Droughts don’t have to compromise your drinking water in your home, however. As officials work to find solutions for the droughts and extreme temperatures increasing all over the country, home water filters and drinking water systems can reduce harmful contaminants like chemicals, excess chlorine, or bacteria and provide your household with plenty of clean, safe drinking water. If you live in an area that has experienced drought-like conditions, consider a water filter for your home. Don’t let a drought compromise your home’s drinking water quality.