Water in America: In the Tap We Trust?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Water drop from faucet (Free Bird Photos/Shutterstock)

Until recently, the residents of West Virginia spent very little time worrying about their abundant supply of fresh mountain water. But now a week after Elk River chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginians without water, what comes out of the tap has become a number one priority.

While more than two-thirds of those affected can now turn their faucets back on, officials have warned that pregnant women should stick to bottled water, and questions of responsibility remain.

See Also: West Virginians Report Illness From Water

Though things may still be up in the air for West Virginians, how does the rest of America feel about their water—do we as a nation trust in the tap?

For a taste of the water across the United States, The Takeaway is joined by Jennifer Weidhaas, assistant professor of Environmental Engineering at West Virginia University; Mark Davis, director of the Institute on Water Resources Law and Policy at Tulane University Law School; and David Soll, Assistant Professor in the Watershed Institute for Collaborative Environmental Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire, and author of "Empire of Water: An Environmental and Political History of the New York City Water Supply."

Together Weidhaas, Davis and Soll provide a snapshot of what the water is like in three different regions of the U.S.

The Moving Concept of Fresh, Pure Water

As listeners in drought-weary California know, water pollution and treatment remains a major concern for the 21st century and it's an issue with a long history in the United States.

While Americans have long understood that drinking polluted water could lead to health problems, it wasn't until Louis Pasteur's discovery of bacteria in the 1880s that we began treating our water to prevent communicable disease.

As for how to deal with industrial water pollution, that's remains controversial to this day.

Joining The Takeaway is Martin Melosi, author of The Sanitary City and professor of history at the University of Houston. He provides a look back at the history of water filtration and treatment across America.


Mark Davis, Martin Melosi, David Soll and Jennifer Weidhaas

Produced by:

Ellen Frankman and Jillian Weinberger


T.J. Raphael

Comments [10]

miss you v from little rock arkansas

Every time I return to Arkansas I celebrate by drinking straight out of the tap. We are called the natural state for a reason!

Jan. 17 2014 02:02 PM
Curtiss from Flagstaff, AZ

Didn't here any discussion re California's water problems. They're in a near record drought and are trying to pipe water 500 miles from the Sacramento Delta to L.A.. The San Joaquin Valley grows most of our produce, so if they lose their water the valley will turn into a dust bowl.

Jan. 17 2014 01:38 PM
Molly Collins from Azle, TEXAS

I have lived in Tarrant County, immediately south of Azle, TX. for 24 years. Until recently, we considered our well's water to be purely delicious. Injection wells in the area have given us all grave concerns about the amount of and the chemicals in the ground water here

Jan. 17 2014 01:16 PM
Jesus from Little Rock

When my family and I first came to Arkansas from North Carolina we noticed the water tasted a bit like drinking from a lake. Turns out that Beaver Dam is where we got out water in the NW part of the state. Taste is okay after 7 years but the funny thing is that you can tell when the weather will change from hot to cold when the water starts to taste less like a lake and more like bottled water.

Jan. 17 2014 01:15 PM
Isabel from Lantana, Texas

We grew up drinking delicious, clean clear well water in North Europe. We came to Texas and the first encounter with its water at DFW airport was like drinking living organisms, awful taste!!! Now we live in Lantana, Texas. Our water comes from Lewisville lake... we are skeptical about it. You can smell it when you turn on the water while showering, it tastes strange if it is not completely cold... and whatever you cook with it, it gets a typical "Lantana-taste"...

Jan. 17 2014 01:01 PM
Criostoir O'Reilly from Nantucket

I don't care what my friend Phil Lindsay say about the water in Boston, the water on Nantucket is much better.

Jan. 17 2014 12:57 PM
Roseanne from Philadelphia

The recent chemical spill in West Virginia not withstanding, I think we should all count our blessings in this country that the vast majority of us have safe, readily available tap water in our homes. Having lived overseas, I know that this is not a universal experience. No one I know in this country has to walk a mile for water or has a real fear of water-borne illness from drinking what comes out of the tap. You will never catch me complaining about the taste of my tap water or buying bottled water.

Jan. 17 2014 12:52 PM
Daphne from Riegelsville, PA

We have our own well water, and it's delicious. I feel very fortunate to have such good tasting water and at this time know an infinite supply. I do worry though about fracking and how that would affect my water and water in the area. I feel water is just too valuable to possibly fool with if fracking comes through.

Jan. 17 2014 12:37 PM
Beth from Nebraska

The water here can be terrible or decent depending on where in the city you live. You can have great water on the edge of the city but then have cloudy and stale tasting water in midtown. The water in South Carolina though always tastes and smells like swap water. It's so bad when we are there visiting family, we buy bottled water.

Jan. 17 2014 12:12 PM
Jocelyn from Livingston

"Water is geography. Water is history. " as per your guest just remarked.
I say: water is global. At the top of the hour, your news update announced an Italian port town being chosen despite the town's rejecting being chosen as the transfer site for the Syrian toxic chemical weapons. The chemical weapons will be destroyed on international waters.
I ask, won't fish and other sea creatures be impacted not just other environmental damage?
And tides may bring back this toxic sludge back to shore.

Jan. 17 2014 09:20 AM

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