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Where Does My Drinking Water Come From And How Is It Treated?


Your drinking water comes from surface water or ground water. The water that systems pump and treat from sources open to the atmosphere, such as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs is known as surface water. Water pumped from wells drilled into underground aquifers, geologic formations containing water, is called ground water. The quantity of water produced by a well depends on the nature of the rock, sand, or soil in the aquifer from which the water is drawn. Drinking water wells may be shallow (50 feet or less) or deep (more than 1,000 feet). More water systems have ground water than surface water as a source (approx. 147,000 v. 14,500), but more people drink from a surface water system (195 million v. 101 million). Large-scale water supply systems tend to rely on surface water resources, while smaller water systems tend to use ground water. Your water utility or public works department can tell you the source of your public water supply.


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Water Bubbles

How Does Water Get To My Faucet?

An underground network of pipes typically delivers drinking water to the homes and businesses served by the water system. Small systems serving just a handful of households may be relatively simple, while large metropolitan systems can be extremely complex—sometimes consisting of thousands of miles of pipes serving millions of people. Drinking water must meet required health standards when it leaves the treatment plant. After treated water leaves the plant, it is monitored within the distribution system to identify and remedy any problems such as water main breaks, pressure variations, or growth of microorganisms.

How Is My Water Treated To Make It Safe?

Water utilities treat nearly 34 billion gallons of water every day. The amount and type of treatment applied varies with the source and quality of the water. Generally, surface water systems require more treatment than ground water systems because they are directly exposed to the atmosphere and runoff from rain and melting snow.

Water suppliers use a variety of treatment processes to remove contaminants from drinking water. These individual processes can be arranged in a “treatment train” (a series of processes applied in a sequence). The most commonly used processes include coagulation (flocculation and sedimentation), filtration, and disinfection. Some water systems also use ion exchange and adsorption. Water utilities select the treatment combination most appropriate to treat the contaminants found in the source water of that particular system.

Coagulation (Flocculation & Sedimentation)

Flocculation: This step removes dirt and other particles suspended in the water. Alum and iron salts or synthetic organic polymers are added to the water to form tiny sticky particles called “floc,” which attract the dirt particles.


All sources of drinking water contain some naturally occurring contaminants. At low levels, these contaminants generally are not harmful in our drinking water. Removing all contaminants would be extremely expensive, and in most cases, would not provide increased protection of public health. A few naturally occurring minerals may actually improve the taste of drinking water and may even have nutritional value at low levels.

Sedimentation: The flocculated particles then settle naturally out of the water. Those particles include clays and silts, natural organic matter, precipitates from other treatment processes in the facility, iron and manganese, and microorganisms. Filtration clarifies the water and enhances the effectiveness of disinfection.



The water passes through filters, some made of layers of sand, gravel, and charcoal that help remove even smaller particles.


The Water Quality Association

The Water Quality Association is a not-for-profit international trade association representing the residential, commercial, and industrial water treatment industry. Its membership consists of both manufacturers as well as dealers/distributors of equipment. WQA is a resource and information source, a voice for the industry, an educator of professionals, a laboratory for product testing, and a communicator with the public. WQA has more than 2,500 members. Download WQA's Quick Guide to Water Filtration.


Help from WQA 


The Water Quality Association (WQA) website “Find a Water Professional” page will assist you in finding a professional in your area. In addition, the “Find a Certified Product” page lists 3,000 WQA Gold-certified water treatment products, e.g., water softeners and water filtration systems, to help you find the right system for your home.



A small amount of chlorine is added or some other disinfection method is used to kill any bacteria or microorganisms that may be in the water.


Water is often disinfected before it enters the distribution system to ensure that dangerous microbial contaminants are killed. Chlorine, chlorinates, or chlorine dioxides are most often used because they are very effective disinfectants, and residual concentrations can be maintained in the water system.

Disinfection Byproducts

Disinfection of drinking water is one of the major public health advances of the 20th century [see also Disinfection Byproducts - A Question of Balance]. However, sometimes the disinfectants themselves can react with naturally occurring materials in the water to form unintended byproducts, which may pose health risks. EPA recognizes the importance of removing microbial contaminants while simultaneously protecting the public from disinfection byproducts, and has developed regulations to limit the presence of these byproducts. For more information, see


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The Healthy House Institute (HHI), a for-profit educational LLC, provides the information on as a free service to the public. The intent is to disseminate accurate, verified and science-based information on creating healthy home environments.


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Where Does My Drinking Water Come From And How Is It Treated?:  Created on August 20th, 2012.  Last Modified on June 23rd, 2015


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About EPA

The mission of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is to protect human health and the environment. Since 1970, the EPA has been working for a cleaner, healthier environment for the American people. At laboratories located throughout the nation, the agency works to assess environmental conditions and to identify, understand and solve current and future environmental problems.



Information provided by The Healthy House Institute is designed to support, not to replace the relationship between patient/physician or other qualified healthcare provider.

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