Water Quality in Community Water Systems
Most New Mexicans are provided high quality drinking water by community water systems. A community water system is a type of public water supplier that delivers piped water for human consumption to at least 15 service connections and more than 25 people year-round. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) sets regulations for monitoring and treating drinking water delivered by these systems. There are water quality standards and monitoring requirements for over 90 constituents.
Why is water quality in community water systems important?
Drinking water contaminants, even at very low concentrations, may affect human health. Since contamination in a single drinking water system can affect many people at once, drinking water quality is an important public health issue. People can be exposed to contaminants in water not only by drinking the water, but also by eating foods prepared with the water, eating produce or meats that were grown or raised on the contaminated water, breathing chemicals that have volatilized from the water (released into the air when showering, bathing, or flushing toilets), or absorbing them through direct contact with skin.
How is my water protected?
Community water system operators are required to provide drinking water that meets standards established under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The EPA sets drinking water standards for individual contaminants and groups of contaminants. Typically, these standards protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants in drinking water. For public water systems (including community water systems), the federal government has established legally enforceable regulatory limits - National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR) - for over 90 chemical, radioactive, and microbial contaminants in drinking water. These regulatory limits originate from the Safe Drinking Water Act and govern public water systems. New Mexico has adopted the federal standards.
What is in My Water?
Every year, community water suppliers send customers a "Consumer Confidence Report" that contains information about the quality of their water. It includes information on where the water comes from, how it is treated, a list of the contaminants they test for, and the highest concentration of each contaminant that they found in the past year. If you did not receive a "Consumer Confidence Report" you can obtain one by contacting your water supplier.
When a water system has a problem that might pose a risk to public health, they are required to notify their customers. The most common problems are contaminant levels that exceed health standards (water quality violation) or problems with the water treatment system (treatment technique violation). If it is a serious situation, they must notify the public within 24 hours; for less serious problems they must notify the public within 30 days. In some circumstances water systems must work with the state drinking water program to prevent a more serious problem, even if there has not been a violation.
If your community water system has notified you that there has been a problem you should carefully follow the advice given by the water system and the local public health officials. If you think there is a problem with your drinking water, you should call your water provider or the New Mexico Environment Department Drinking Water Bureau. Call the Drinking Water Bureau Toll Free at 1-877-654-8720 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are a consumer of water from a community water system, you should read the "Consumer Confidence Report" for your system, published yearly by community water suppliers. Public water suppliers are required to monitor the quality of the water they supply, and consumers must be notified if a primary drinking water standard is exceeded. There are two types of EPA standards:
- Primary drinking water standards (Maximum Contaminant Levels or MCL) are health-based and enforceable.
- Secondary drinking water standards (Secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels or SMCL) are based on aesthetics such as color, odor, and taste of the water. They are guidelines, not enforceable limits.
The NMTracking.org data portal has community water quality data on the following contaminants: arsenic, atrazine, DEHP (Di (2-ethylhexyl)phthalate), HAA5 (halocetic acids), nitrates, PCE (perchloroethylene or tetrachloroethylene), radium, TCE (trichloroethylene),TTHM (total trihalomethanes), and uranium.