Water treatment and water quality are major concerns for people in urban centers all over the world. We often take it for granted, but the ability to walk into the kitchen, turn on the sink, and have access to “clean” free-flowing water is something that about a third of the world does not have. On top of this we also waste a lot of this water throughout our day. But is this water that we are so fortunate to have access to actually safe for us to use?
When contaminants such as lead and chemicals enter a water supply, they can render it almost completely unusable. These pollutants enter water supplies such as rivers, lakes, and reservoirs via acid rainfall, storm runoff, industrial wastewater, etc. There are many industries on the southside of Chicago and, thus, branches of the Chicago River have become polluted from the waste these plants emit. Tests have shown that there may be traces of lead in some Chicago water supplies as this water comes into contact with lead enroute to homes. “Almost 80 percent of Chicago properties are attached to lead service lines, which were connected to many homes built before the mid-1980s” according to a 2016 article published by Progress Illinois.
The same article argues that Chicago is not doing enough to test for lead in the city water. Chicago only tests about 50 residential homes for lead every
3 years. This is likely not enough to gauge the water quality for the city as a whole. Something that each home could do is invest in testing their own water for lead more frequently and, if dangerous levels are found, reporting it to the city to take action. The city is required to ensure that everyone has safe city water so having water that does not meet this standard should be an urgent matter for them to take care of.
In an effort to reduce the effects of water pollution in general, ongoing efforts are being made to keep the Chicago River flowing south to the Mississippi rather than into Lake Michigan, a major source of fresh, usable, water for the city. But more action needs to be taken by industries who are polluting the river. Perhaps there are other methods to dispose of this contaminated water before it enters the river. Maybe an investment could be made in onsite water treatment to extract these contaminants before releasing them into the water supply. Whatever the case, more efforts–other than sending contaminated water south for other cities to deal with–need to be made. As we are so fortunate to have access to fresh usable water, we need to be taking more responsibility for sustaining and treating it in order to keep it in a usable state that is beneficial to our health and our environment.