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Is Phoenix Tap Water Safe?

For many of us, the act of going to the kitchen tap to fill a glass of water isn’t something we think twice about because we have water softeners and filtration systems in our homes. While it may be convenient, it doesn’t exactly seem like a luxury compared to most things in life. 

The truth is, however, that access to clean drinking water is a relatively new development in the scope of human history. In fact, a 2017 study from the World Health Organization found that 2.2 billion people—29% of the world’s population at the time—lacked access to safe drinking water.1

While Phoenix tap water meets EPA quality standards for federally-regulated contaminants, the threat of groundwater shortages and risks to surface water sources present unique risks to the safety of drinking water in Arizona’s largest city.

What Drinking Water Contaminants Does Phoenix Monitor?

Despite having some of the safest water supplies in the world, the United States still fails to guarantee clean drinking water to all Americans and faces compounding crises of aging infrastructure, an underfunded Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and nearly 32 million cases of waterborne diseases each year.2

In compliance with EPA regulations, the city of Phoenix monitors its drinking water supply for a number of federally-regulated contaminants. These substances, which can affect the Phoenix water quality, are derived from a number of sources. The EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act defines “contaminant” as anything other than water molecules.3

While some contaminants occur naturally, others can enter drinking water through human and animal waste, agricultural and industrial runoff, and corrosion of household plumbing systems.

In its 2020 Water Quality Report, the Phoenix Water Services Department found safe levels of the following regulated substances in the city’s drinking water:4

  • E. Coli bacteria E. Coli, which is introduced to drinking water through contamination by human and animal feces, was not detected in Phoenix’s water distribution system.
  • Arsenic Samples showed levels of arsenic ranging from 0-8 parts per billion (ppb), meeting the EPA’s maximum contaminant level of 10 ppb. Arsenic, a toxic heavy metal, can enter drinking water through erosion and runoff from both orchards and glass and electronics production.
  • Barium – A byproduct of drilling wastes, metal refineries, and natural erosion, barium was detected from 0.002-0.1 parts per million (ppm), well under the maximum level of 2 ppm.
  • Chromium – This byproduct of erosion and steel and pulp mill discharge was detected at levels between 0 and 80 ppb, meeting the maximum level of 100 ppb.
  • Fluoride Introduced to water as an additive for stronger teeth, through erosion, and as discharge from fertilizer and aluminum production, fluoride levels ranged from 0.3-0.7 ppm, well under the limit of 4 ppm
  • Nitrate Detected at levels between 0 and 4 ppm, nitrate, the byproduct of fertilizer runoff, erosion, and sewage leaching did not surpass the maximum contaminant level of 10 ppm in 2020.
  • Selenium This byproduct of mining, erosion, and petroleum or metal refineries was detected at 0-1 ppb, well under the maximum contaminant level of 50 ppb.
  • Lead This toxic heavy metal, a byproduct of household plumbing corrosion, was detected at 3 ppb in 90% of taps sampled. This met the EPA’s standard, which requires 90% of tested taps to not exceed 15 ppb.
  • Copper This toxic heavy metal, a byproduct of household plumbing corrosion, was detected at 0.3 ppm in 90% of taps sampled. This met the EPA’s standard, which requires 90% of tested taps to not exceed 1.3 ppm.
  • Chlorine Detected between 0.22 and 2 ppm, chlorine levels met the EPA’s standard of 4 ppm for a running annual average. This chemical disinfectant is added to drinking water to control microbe levels and is safe to consume at regulated levels.
  • Chlorine Dioxide Detected between 0 and 320 ppb, chlorine dioxide levels met the EPA’s standard of 800 ppb. This chemical disinfectant is added to drinking water as an oxidant and is safe to consume at regulated levels.

In addition to the above federally-regulated contaminants, Phoenix monitors its drinking water supply for several unregulated contaminants that may pose a risk to human health at excessive levels. These substances include:

  • Manganese – This naturally occurring element was detected at an average level of 43 ppb. Although unregulated by the EPA, the agency issued a Drinking Water Health Advisory for Manganese in 2004 with a non-mandatory guideline of 0.3 mg/L or 300 ppb.5 While the average level in Phoenix met this guideline, the 2020 report included the highest sample level of 992 ppb.
  • Germanium Both naturally occurring and a byproduct of zinc ore processing and electronics manufacturing, germanium was detected at an average level of 0.35 ppb.
  • HAA6Br This byproduct of drinking water disinfection was detected at an average level of 14 ppb.
  • HAA9 – This byproduct of drinking water disinfection was detected at an average level of 19 ppb. Although unregulated by the EPA, HAA9 levels in Phoenix’s drinking water greatly exceeded the health guideline of 0.06 ppb recommended by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), an influential American nonprofit focused on toxic chemicals and drinking water pollutants.6
  • Total Organic Carbon This naturally occurring substance was detected at an average level of 3.3 ppm.
  • Bromide This naturally occurring substance was detected at an average level of 17 ppb.

While Phoenix’s drinking water meets all EPA standards for regulated contaminant levels, both the presence of unregulated chemicals and the possibility of contamination from environmental and industrial factors could be cause for concern in the city’s water supply.

To get a better idea of these risks, it is important to understand the sources of Phoenix’s municipal water supply.

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Where Does Phoenix Get its Water?

Located in the Sonoran Desert, Phoenix is one of the hottest and driest cities in the United States. Despite receiving just 8.03 inches of rain per year, the city manages to provide clean, fresh drinking water to its population of 1.6 million and counting through a blend of water resources including surface water and groundwater.7 These water sources are highly dependant on a city’s environment and climate:

  • Surface water – Sourced from lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams, surface water is an invaluable resource for the environment and human life. Because of its lack of groundwater access, Phoenix depends on the Central Arizona Project (CAP) aqueduct and Salt River Project (SRP) canal system to provide fresh surface water from the Salt, Verde, and Colorado rivers.
  • Groundwater – The EPA defines groundwater as “fresh water (from rain or melting ice and snow) that soaks into the soil and is stored in the tiny spaces (pores) between rocks and particles of soil.”8 Due to its desert climate and lack of consistent rainfall, Phoenix is almost completely dependant on surface water for its drinking water supply.

According to the city’s Water Services Department, Phoenix received 97-99% of its 2020 drinking water supply from surface water that began as snowpack, while just 2% of drinking water was provided by the city’s 20 groundwater wells. 

Possible Threats to Phoenix’s Drinking Water Quality

Despite meeting the EPA’s standards for federally-regulated contaminants, the city still faces a number of environmental and anthropogenic threats to its drinking water supply. In accordance with the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality’s 2005 source water assessment, Phoenix’s Water Services Department lists the following potential risks to its drinking water:

  • Gas stations
  • Landfills
  • Dry cleaners
  • Agricultural fields
  • Wastewater treatment plants
  • Mining

To counteract these risks, the city continuously monitors its surface and groundwater sources for possible contaminants. If it measures a contaminant at or near the EPA’s maximum contaminant limit, the city’s Water Services Department either treats the source or removes it from service until quality can be guaranteed.

Phoenix’s drinking water also faces threats associated with climate change. A 22-year megadrought has led to the first federally mandated limit to water supply in United States history.9 In 2022, this will mean a 20% loss in water supply from the Colorado River. 

While this cut will mostly affect the state’s farmers, it could have implications for drinking water as growing demand for groundwater and an overburdened CAP aqueduct lead to further shortages in the future. 

How You Can Ensure Clean Drinking Water at Home

With so many factors to keep in mind, it can be easy to feel helpless when it comes to preserving the quality of your tap water. As a homeowner and as a citizen, however, you have several ways of exerting control over your drinking water and, in turn, your own peace of mind.

If you have concerns about the risk of contaminants and the impending effects of federally mandated cuts to Arizona’s water supply, it’s important to educate yourself about these issues. Reach out to your representatives about and ask how they plan to keep Phoenix’s drinking water both clean and available for the foreseeable future. You can even ask about other water factors including, “What are Phoenix’s Water Hardness Levels?

Additionally, you can invest in a water filtration system to provide you and your family with added security while avoiding overdependence on environmentally-hazardous plastic water bottles. These systems, including water softeners, salt-free systems, and reverse osmosis systems, can filter out harmful contaminants and reduce water hardness to ensure your water remains healthy and tastes good to drink.

Better Water Quality with Rayne Water Conditioning

If you live in Phoenix, Arizona, you should count yourself lucky. The city provides clean drinking water to its growing population despite facing some seriously harsh environmental conditions. 

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be aware of the risks of potential contaminants. Luckily, Rayne Water provides drinking water filtration systems and residential water softeners so you can ensure your drinking water is top quality.

Treat yourself to the best drinking water; get a Phoenix water softener and treatment systems with Rayne Water.

 

Sources: 

  1. World Health Organization. Drinking-water.  https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/drinking-water 
  2. The Conversation. The US drinking water supply is mostly safe, but that’s not good enough. https://theconversation.com/the-us-drinking-water-supply-is-mostly-safe-but-thats-not-good-enough-115028 
  3. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Types of Drinking Water Contaminants. https://www.epa.gov/ccl/types-drinking-water-contaminants 
  4. City of Phoenix. 2020 Water Report. https://www.phoenix.gov/waterservicessite/documents/wsdprimarywqr.pdf 
  5. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Drinking Water Health Advisory for Manganese. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/2014-09/documents/support_cc1_magnese_dwreport_0
  6. Environmental Working Group. City of Phoenix. https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/system.php?pws=AZ0407025 
  7. U.S. Climate Data. Climate Phoenix – Arizona. https://www.usclimatedata.com/climate/phoenix/arizona/united-states/usaz0166 
  8. United States Environmental Protection Agency. Groundwater. https://www.epa.gov/sites/default/files/documents/groundwater.pdf
  9. Buzzfeed News. People In Arizona Are About To Face The West’s First Major Water Crisis.   https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/caitochs/colorado-river-shortage-arizona-drought