Water is the most abundant resource in nature. 70 percent of the earth’s surface is made up of water and it is so essential to life that a person can survive without food but not without water. For those of us who live here on Puget Sound, how do we know our water is safe to drink, to cook with, to swim in? How do we know we’re doing our utmost best to take care of aquatic life and our whole environment?

SAFE TO HUMAN HEALTH

Drinking water in the Puget Sound is one of the best surface source water in the nation and even the world. This is because our water comes from two protected watersheds in the Cascade Mountains. Because the water is pristine to start with, treatment is minimal. The source is good, so the way the water is distributed through transmission lines and finally to our homes through water pipes is critical.

Most of Seattle’s pipes are made of cast iron (unlined). This comprises about 700 miles (approximately 43 percent) of the city’s water mains. Many of these mains are decades old (some as old as a century), that corrosion or rusting of the pipes contributes to a decreased water flow and quality. Yet, we’ve had very few problems with the quality of our drinking water.

According to Lynn Kirby of the Lab Services Division of Seattle Public Utilities, there were only two occurrences of possible contamination in 2009 (both in West Seattle) out of 2,816 samples taken. That is a mere 0.00071 percent. So far in 2010, there has only been one occurrence which was found near the Cascade Playground in downtown Seattle.

The only other big occurrence in Seattle was back in August 2008, when construction crews damaged a water main in Beacon Hill. But because of Seattle Public Utilities’ quick response, water was safe to drink within 24 hours.

In Renton, drinking water quality is fairly well under control said Liz Hornsby, the city’s Utility Services Director. There have been no untoward incidences to report. According to Hornsby, the city is focusing its efforts into redoing the water system plan which is a twenty-year plan to prepare for increased water production due to an increase in population. It is also consistently updating the older cast iron pipes through its annual water main replacement program.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) together with the Washington State Department of Health partner to make sure that our water is safe to drink. The state reviews municipalities’ water sources through the Office of Drinking Water in Olympia. Summer is again upon us and warmer water breeds bacteria such as coliform and e coli. Most of our water problems occur at this time of the year but all systems are in place for us to have clean and healthy drinking water, thanks to our local city and state offices overseeing the supply, distribution, and consumption of water.

SAFE FOR OUR ENVIRONMENT

Washington State has over 7,800 lakes. While most of them have good quality water, those that are near urban areas are affected by pollution from different human activities. Puget Sound is endangered by such activities and there is growing concern about its safety and health.

The biggest problem threatening the Sound and its waterways is stormwater pollution, according to Chris Wilke from the nonprofit group Puget Soundkeeper Alliance (PSA). Stormwater runoff is anything that drains into the Sound: soapy water from washing cars in driveways; old paint washed off houses; grease spots from cars in parking lots. The best thing our citizens can do is to report these incidences at 1-800-OILS911 or 1-800-42PUGET.

In mid-June, there was an oil spill on the Duwamish River – a small one (10-50 gallons of oil) but a spill nonetheless. It was enough for one to smell it if he was on the water, or to make one sick if he was sensitive to it. For sure it affected Asian Pacific Islanders (APIs) who regularly fish there for salmon, rockfish, and flatfish.

The PSA has an interactive tool (www.imrivers.org/pugetsound) showing different areas around the Sound with different levels of environmental impact and quality concern. It is there for our citizens to take stewardship of the waters around us. Mr. Wilke says the environmental community has done a poor job of reaching out to more ethnic groups such as APIs. But PSA is willing to give workshops and training to help us make informed decisions and participate in a community effort to help heal the Sound.

In light of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, Wilke says it is not those catastrophic events that hurt the Sound the most. It is the little things that add up. Puget Sound is worth protecting, and we must take it upon ourselves to save it from further loss.

Let’s celebrate life by being responsible with our most precious resource. This is our very own, the waters of Puget Sound.

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