Water, Water Everywhere but not a Drop to Drink

By: Dominick Sirianni

Imagine waking up one morning and finding our community is without water. Our hearts go out to residents around Toledo, Ohio who faced that chilling reality earlier this summer. Unfortunately for cities like Toledo, Buffalo, Erie, PA and Cleveland, it doesn’t look like this will be an isolated incident.

Due to pollution, Lake Erie – the source of water for these and hundreds of smaller municipalities – is filling with algae. The algae produce cyanotoxins which, according to the EPA, can cause the “typical pea-soup green color or blue-green scum”. Cyanotoxins affect the human liver, skin and nervous system causing fever, headaches, muscle and joint pain, blisters, stomach cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, mouth ulcers, and allergic reactions.1 Thankfully no deaths were reported from the recent cyanotoxin outbreak in Toledo.

Unfortunately, current laws don’t require cities to test water supplies for the presence of cyanotoxins.2 Though water management is of mounting concern to us here in Arizona, we, thankfully, don’t get all of our drinking water from one source. That should prevent the kind of universal outage that occurred in Toledo and threatens to impact other cities on the coast of Lake Erie.

Unfortunately, our water supply is precarious at best. Only weeks go by between the appearance of articles or news stories discussing the overstretched Colorado River or the lack of winter snowfall aggravating our drought. Outside of the metro area, most of us rely on well water which absorbs most of the contaminants that fall from our skies or are added to our local soils.

Our family, like many others, spends a little time each weekend refilling three five gallon jugs at the local Water and Ice. We’ve contemplated moving to a deliver service like Sparklets but the Water and Ice has ice cream.

Either way, we drink treated and purified tap water so we aren’t at risk of cyanotoxins or several other contaminants. Unfortunately, we’re one of hundreds of customers of our local Water and Ice and have, on occasion, been told we need to come back later because their tanks were empty.

Today, that’s a minor inconvenience…an excuse to take the kids for ice cream twice in one weekend. I worry about tomorrow. Living in the metro area, I don’t have the option of digging a well. It would be nice to know I could drink the water right from the tap in case the Water and Ice runs dry or the Sparklet’s delivery man doesn’t show. Options like reverse osmosis would solve the safety question. We leave the larger question of an overtaxed water table to the community at large.

 http://water.epa.gov/scitech/swguidance/standards/criteria/nutrients/upload/cyanobacteria_factsheet.pdf1  http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/storyline/wp/2014/08/11/watching-toledos-toxic-water-troubles-with-a-
wary-eye-and-few-regulations/2

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