Sacramento tap water sometimes runs cloudy, and can have an “earthy” taste and smell on hot summer days. Having a water filter handy usually helps.
The water that comes from your kitchen sink is generally safe to drink, according to officials, and it exceeds the standards the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets.
When should you question your water’s quality? What are the standards?
Water quality is regulated in the United States, but just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s safe, according to Environmental Working Group, an activism organization. In California, a 2022 report showed the state was slow to help roughly 1 million residents with tainted drinking water.
The Bee spoke with Tom Young, Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UC Davis and the city of Sacramento’s utilities department about water regulation standards in California and Sacramento.
They answer the questions: Is tap water safe to drink, do filters work and what are the systems used to treat water?
“It’s a transparent process,” Young said when explaining water regulations. “You can see what’s in the water you’re drinking, and you can read up on it, if you care to learn.”
Is Sacramento tap water safe to drink?
Sacramento’s water supply is safe to drink and exceeds federal and state water standards, said Carlos Eliason, a spokesperson for the city’s utilities department.
“We monitor our tap water for over 120 constituents,” Eliason said. “We also have about 75 testing location to help make sure that city Sacramento tap water is safe to drink.”
Drinking water standards are set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and State Water Resources Control Board.
“The water in the United States, from basically every public water system, is very tightly regulated with respect to the content of bacteria, viruses and other protozoans,” Young said. “Both with respect to treatment and with respect to monitoring.”
People who are connected to the public water system rarely encounter outbreaks in their water supply, Young said.
A total of 80% of Sacramento’s drinking water is supplied from the American River and the Sacramento River. The other 20% of water comes from 28 groundwater wells “that pull water from an underground layer that acts like a reservoir,” according to the Sacramento website.
In general, those who should be worried about potential contamination are those with private water sources “in the edges of a city or a county which have agriculture influences around them,” Young said.
“Those wells are not regularly tested unless people send their own water out for testing.”
The Sacramento Bee reported in 2022, that on average, the State Water Resources Control Board was taking 33 months to approve grants and loans requested by community members to clean up contaminated water systems. The problem is one that affects hundreds of rural California communities.
- Intake: the intake structure pumps water from either the Sacramento or American Rivers into the grit basin, a long narrow tank designed to make particles settle in water.
- Grit Basin: particles that are in the water settle to the bottom.
- Flocculation tanks: a thickening treatment called coagulant is added to the water which causes particles to grow larger and continue to settle.
- Sedimentation tanks: 85% of sediments have been removed at this point, but sediments continue to settle. Filters: water is filtered through hard coal and sand.
- Reservoirs: water is stored until it’s needed.
When should I be concerned about my water quality?
You know that saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”? That same philosophy should be applied when you’re assessing tap water, Young said.
“There’s what’s called the aesthetics of water and then there’s what’s called the safety of water, and often the two things don’t really overlap all that much,” Young said. “Meaning that you could have a water that is very safe to drink that doesn’t look all that good, and you could have water that is unsafe to drink that is crystal clear.”
Over the summer, Sacramento’s water source can also lack aesthetics. During the hotter months Sacramento’s tap water can take on an “earthy” or “musty” odor and taste. Although the smelly water is not appealing or desirable to consume, it’s still safe to drink.
Now, if your water looks brown, purple or even pink you should call Sacramento Water Quality Lab.
“There’s a couple different colors that could happen,” Eliason said. “Because of, usually mainly due to the quality of pipes on the residential side.”
After Sacramento distributes drinking water through its system it enters residential piping to reach consumers. Plumbing at many homes throughout Sacramento can often times be old, Eliason said.
Cloudy or “milky” water from your is harmless and usually clears up soon after entering a glass, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. This effect is typically caused by air bubbles, more likely when it’s cold outside.
If you have changes in your water’s color or taste, you should call the water system company, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
If water in a community doesn’t meet standards, the city will send out advisories and warnings.
Do water filters work?
Filters work and add an extra layer of protection, Young said. They can also enhance taste.
Something like a Brita “does a pretty good job on things like lead and on many different kinds of pesticides or other organic compounds,” Young said.
It’s important to note that routine filter replacement is necessary for filters to work how they are intended.
Want to track your water source?
To take a deeper look at Sacramento’s water source, you can log on to the city’s data portal. There you’ll find information on health standards, aesthetic standards and lead and copper rules. You can search contaminants by name and view if it was detected in your water.
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