There is no such thing as naturally pure water. In nature, all water contains some impurities. As water flows in streams, sits in lakes, and filters through layers of soil and rock in the ground, it dissolves or absorbs the substances that it touches.
Some of these substances are harmless. In fact, some people prefer mineral water precisely because minerals give it an appealing taste. However, at certain levels, minerals, just like man-made chemicals, are considered contaminants that can make water unpalatable or even unsafe.
Contaminants in Water
Some contaminants come from erosion of natural rock formations. Other contaminants are substances discharged from factories, applied to farmlands, or used by consumers in their homes and yards. Sources of contaminants might be in your neighborhood or might be many miles away.
Your local water quality report tells which contaminants are in your drinking water, the levels at which they were found, and the actual or likely source of each contaminant. Some ground water systems have established wellhead protection programs to prevent substances from contaminating their wells.
Protecting Water Sources
Similarly, some surface water systems protect the watershed around their reservoir to prevent contamination. Right now, states and water suppliers are working systematically to assess every source of drinking water and to identify potential sources of contaminants. This process will help communities to protect their drinking water supplies from contamination, and a summary of the results will be in future water quality reports.
Urban Drinking Water
A clean, constant supply of drinking water is essential to every community. People in large cities frequently drink water that comes from surface water sources, such as lakes, rivers, and reservoirs. Sometimes these sources are close to the community.
Other times, drinking water suppliers get their water from sources many miles away. In either case, when you think about where your drinking water comes from, it's important to consider not just the part of the river or lake that you can see, but the entire watershed. The watershed is the land area over which water flows into the river, lake, or reservoir.
Rural Drinking Water
In rural areas, people are more likely to drink ground water that was pumped from a well. These wells tap into aquifers—the natural reservoirs under the earth's surface—that may be only a few miles wide, or may span the borders of many states.