The Potomac River provides clean, safe drinking water to almost 6 million people within the river basin. Close to 100 million gallons of water are taken from the river and transported to homes, schools, restaurants, hospitals, and dozens of other businesses and amenities daily1. This water is used for drinking, cooking, cleaning, showering, and removing waste. The value of access to clean water is immeasurable. We are very fortunate in the Potomac River Basin to have what billions of people around the world lack – tap water that is available 24-7, 365 days a year that we can count on to meet our basic needs.
On October 21st the Potomac Riverkeeper Network is participating in the Value of Water Campaign to urge you to “Imagine a Day Without Water”. It is a day to reflect on the importance of access to clean, safe drinking water that we take for granted every day. What if our water coming from the tap wasn’t clean enough to drink? What if it was contaminated by toxic chemicals, or polluted by human or agricultural waste?
These hypotheticals are closer to reality than we may think since these contaminants are found at varying levels in the Potomac River. Our drinking water goes through several layers of filtration before getting to consumers, but drinking water requires multiple layers of protection, beyond filtration. Source water protection is critically important to ensuring the safety of drinking water. Source water protection means keeping the watershed from which our drinking water is drawn healthy — that means protecting forests and open space, protecting headwater streams and wetlands, and keeping pollution out of the rivers and out of the groundwaters that are often connected to the rivers and many of which are also used to supply drinking water wells. All of these are essential to maintaining healthy, safe drinking water supplies — in addition to investing in state-of-the-art drinking water treatment plants and the system of pipes that carry water from the treatment plant to your tap.
By combating pollution at the source, Potomac Riverkeeper Network helps to ensure that your drinking water is safe before it even goes into the water treatment system. Shenandoah Riverkeeper Mark Frondorf’s Respect the Shenandoah Campaign is helping to tackle the challenge of agricultural waste running into our rivers. Upper Potomac Riverkeeper Brent Walls is working hard to understand the levels of a group of chemicals called PFAS that have potentially detrimental impacts on public health. And Potomac Riverkeeper Dean Naujoks is working to ensure toxic chemicals from coal ash ponds are not leaching into the river and contaminating drinking water sources, including the groundwater wells of people who live near power plants.
The Riverkeepers at Potomac Riverkeeper Network serve a watchdog role ensuring that contaminants like these are kept out of the river (including the headwater streams that flow into the Potomac) and therefore out of our drinking water supplies. In addition to supporting the work of the Potomac Riverkeeper Network and other groups that protect your drinking water sources, you can help protect drinking water supplies by making simple changes to your daily life, including supporting watershed and land use protections, not pouring toxic chemicals down the drain and into the river, not putting excessive fertilizer on your lawn, cleaning up after your pets, not draining motor oil into the storm drains, and reducing nonpermeable surfaces around your home.
On October 21st, please take the opportunity to reflect on where your water comes from, what your daily life would look like without that access, and what you can do to help ensure that your water remains safe. At Potomac Riverkeeper Network, it is our goal to ensure that the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers are swimmable, fishable, and drinkable. We are grateful to be able to give back to the rivers that give so much to all of us.