Next time you turn on the tap, keep in mind that today is the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, which made it illegal to pollute our waterways. The law was passed in 1972 during a time of mounting concern over untreated sewage, industrial and toxic discharges, destruction of wetlands, and contaminated runoff. At the time, two-thirds of our waterways were unsafe for swimming or fishing. We've made some progress since then but there are still many things municipalities, businesses and homeowners can do to keep our water clean.
In addition to stopping the pollution of streams, lakes and rivers, the water act required that contaminated waterways be restored and maintained. But there's still much work to be done. A new app called How's my waterway? from the Environmental Protection Agency encourages residents to find out the conditions of their nearby rivers and streams and to advocate for their cleanup if need be. Just type your zip code into a smart phone or the website to discover if a waterway is polluted, unpolluted or unassessed.
Closer to home, there are things you can do to protect the groundwater by following these recommendations from the EPA .
Reduce paved areas: Use permeable surfaces that allow rain to soak in, not run off, like wood, brick and gravel for decks, patios and walkways.
Reduce or eliminate pesticide application: Test your soil before applying chemicals, and design your lawn and garden with hardy plants that require little or no watering, fertilizers or pesticides.
Reduce the amount of trash you create: Reuse containers, recycle plastics, aluminum, and glass.
Recycle used oil: A single quart of motor oil can contaminate up to two million gallons of drinking water; take used oil or antifreeze to a service station or recycling center.
Don't dump everything down the drain: Be careful what you put into your septic system. Harmful chemicals may end up in your drinking water.
Keep pollutants away from boat marinas and the waterways: Keep boat motors well-tuned to prevent fuel and lubricant leaks; select nontoxic cleaning products and use a drop cloth, and clean and maintain boats away from the water.
Dangerous contaminants such as lead, chloroform, arsenic, nitrate, nitrite, radon, and E. coli bacteria are common in tap water. Consumer Reports tests of water filters of various types found models suitable for removing many such contaminants.