Well, that depends who you ask. It’s easy to forget that the process to find, treat, and distribute clean public water requires technology, infrastructure, data, physics, and — you guessed it — natural resources. This process plays an integral role in protecting your health, supporting agriculture, and keeping our societies running smoothly.
So what exactly happens to produce that glass of water in the first place? It all goes down in three steps:
1. Pump, pump, pump it up.
Public water comes from either ground water (sources deep down in the earth called aquifers), or surface water (lakes, streams, and in some cases even ocean water). Pumping stations help extract water from its original source, and deliver that water to a treatment facility.
2. Treat yo’water.
All water is not created equal. That’s why the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has created regulations around the water treatment process. Public water utilities filter and treat water with specific chemicals that remove impurities, so the glass of water coming out of that tap is potable and safe to drink.
3. Distribute wisely.
Though invisible to the eye, the U.S. water pipe network stretches 700,000 miles (that’s more than four times the length of our national highway system, in case you were curious), and serves 240 million Americans. Because of the complexity of the system, engineers run simulations to determine important factors like the pressure levels and pipe size.
Each of these steps represents different types of technology, hardware, systems, and infrastructure. However, according to the EPA, 40 percent of all American waterways do not meet national water quality standards, due in large part to leaking sewer systems. A burst pipe, contaminated water source, or dysfunctional treatment system can cause disease outbreak and negatively impact human (and environmental) health.
The good news? A lot of companies, organizations, and initiatives are working behind the scenes to keep our water flowing well into the future. So the next time you feel dehydrated, raise a glass to the pipes, meters, pressure systems, and companies that make access to clean water a daily possibility.