Real Science for Real People
What’s In Your Drinking Water?
By Dr. Beth Ravit
In May, about 30 canoeists and kayakers started at the headwaters of the Hackensack River in Rockland County and paddled all the way to Newark Bay. The first portion of the trip took them through reservoirs that supply the drinking water for most of the watershed.
As the Hackensack flows from Rockland County, New York, into northern New Jersey, a series of four reservoirs (Lake DeForest, Lake Tappan, Woodcliff Lake and the Oradell Reservoir) supply drinking water to more than 1 million residents of Bergen and Hudson counties. These reservoirs and the Haworth and Lake DeForest water treatment plants are owned by United Water of New York and New Jersey, subsidiaries of the French conglomerate Suez. The companies also obtain water from wells in Upper Saddle River, the Park Ridge Water Department, the Passaic Valley Water Commission, the Ridgewood Water Department, and United Water of Jersey City and New York, which in combination can provide more than 200 million gallons of water a day.
Water companies are mandated by the USEPA and the NJDEP to annually publish a water quality report. United Water mails a Consumer Confidence Report to all property owners who obtain drinking water from the company. The report lists concentrations of substances that can negatively affect the quality of our drinking water. In addition to providing the highest concentrations of these substances found during regular water sampling events, the report gives the concentration range found over the course of a year. The report provides the Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL - highest concentration allowed in drinking water), and the Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG - the concentrations at which there is no known or expected risk to human health). The report also rates the susceptibility of our water sources to pathogens, nutrients, pesticides, radioactive substances and disinfection byproducts.
So in 2004 how safe was our drinking water coming from the upper Hackensack River? Two sets of water quality standards are reported - the Primary Standards that are directly related to the safety of our drinking water and the Secondary Standards that are related to the esthetic quality of the water. In the report published by United Water in May 2005, none of the Primary or Secondary Standards exceeded the Maximum Contaminant Level except sodium. The NJ Recommend Upper Limit Secondary Standard for sodium is 50 parts per million (ppm). The actual concentrations found in our drinking water ranged from 52-60 ppm. United Water notes that for individuals on a sodium restricted diet, this level may be “of concern.”
Any substance such as chemicals, fertilizers or road salt that is applied to our lawns or roads can potentially end up in our water supply. For information on safe landscaping or road salting practices, contact Hackensack Riverkeeper at 201-968-0808. If you have questions about our water quality or if you live in an apartment building and do not get a copy of the Consumer Confidence Report, call United Water at 1-800-422-5987.
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