Southern Regional Water Program

Research, Extension & Education Water Quality Programs through the Land Grant University System

Drinking Water and Human Health

Water is essential for life. No other single substance is as important for our health, our economy and our quality of life.

Most of us take the safety of our drinking water for granted, whether it comes from our own well or a public system. However, drinking water is sometimes contaminated beyond the limits of safety. This is a particular concern for households that use an individual well, a spring or other private drinking water source; private supplies are not regulated in any state in the south and their safety is entirely an individual responsibility.

Historically, water has been a scarce resource in some parts of the Southern region. In other places, we've taken abundant water supplies for granted. However, increasing demands from growing populations, economic expansion, and increasing use per capita mean that none of us can assume there will always be clean, unlimited supplies of water available whenever we want them.

Conditions of Your Drinking Water

If your drinking water comes from a public system, information on its quality is available from the water system manager. Also, recent regulations require drinking water reports be sent to all public water supply customers on a regular basis. The report may be included with your bill or sent separately. Some systems also post reports in their offices, put them on the Internet or make them available in other ways. You may also query the Safe Drinking Water Information System established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for on-line information about public water systems and their violations of state drinking water regulations.

If your drinking water comes from a private source, you must arrange for testing to determine its safety. Regular testing is recommended. Your state health department or other agency may offer testing; a fee may be charged. In some areas, colleges, universities, or other organizations offer testing, sometimes as part of national drinking water month in May or other event. Private laboratories also analyze drinking water for a fee. Lists of private labs may be available from your local health department, your state water quality agency or found in your telephone directory.

EPA maintains a compilation of state and tribal water quality standards and a water quality standards database that gives information on the uses designated for each waterbody in your state.

Resources and Programs

Examples of resources and programs provided by Land Grant Universities in the Southern Region are outlined below. Auburn University has developed a comprehensive compendium of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ's) on drinking water and human health.

For more information on a specific state, click on that state on the homepage, or use the links at the bottom of this page to jump directly to state summaries of drinking water and human health activities.

Extension Outreach

Each Land Grant University in the Southern Region includes an Extension Service designed to provide educational programming in every county of the state. Extension education takes research verified information developed at colleges, universities, and other sources throughout the world, interprets it and delivers it all youth and adult citizens.

Educational information on drinking water and human health is available from every Extension program in the region. Topics include:

Scientific Research

Research increases our understanding of the effects of contaminants and the routes of contamination. Research provides the foundation to develop new treatment technologies and ways to protect and improve our water supplies. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Current Research Information System (CRIS) provides access to reports on drinking water research supported by USDA and conducted at research centers or Land Grant Universities. Some major research efforts in the Southern Region are:

The goal of a project in Kentucky entitled, "Protection of Well-Water Supplies from Nitrate Contamination," is to determine whether poor well construction or aquifer contamination from domestic and/or agricultural land use practices are a major cause of nitrate contamination of water wells.

At North Carolina A&T State University, researchers are testing low-cost water filtration systems that use granular activated carbons derived from underutilized agricultural by-products.

Researchers at the University of Georgia are attempting to identify nonpoint sources of fecal contamination using a developing technique called ribotyping.

College and University Education

Degree programs and continuing education are critical to develop and enhance human resources to address water quality issues. Examples of programs that deal with drinking water issues are:

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