Updated: Feb 29, 2020
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I started writing about water as part of my pregnancy and whelping nutrition post, but I went down he rabbit hole with this topic and decided it needed it’s own separate post.
Water. We often forget that water is a nutritional need. And I’m not just talking about having fresh water always available, but also the quality of your water.
Water contamination can cause myriad problems for your breeding program. Bacterial contamination can cause miscarriage. Other contaminants can cause fertility issues or birth defects. If you are having fertility or birth defect issues, water quality is an important area to investigate.
If possible, send your water for testing every year to make sure that no contaminants are present. In addition to chemical contaminants, your water should be tested for bacteria. These tests should be done regardless of whether you are on a well or city/municipal water.
Municipal water is required by the EPA to be tested annually only. If you have a pregnant individual of any species in your home, you can request testing results, or you can test on your own as problems can arise in a month when testing is not performed.
If you have a well, you are the only one responsible for testing your water, so be sure to have annual water quality tests performed.
Contamination risks differ by location, so contact your local health or water department for information about the types of testing that you should be doing. Testing may include for coliform bacteria, nitrates/nitrites, arsenic, volatile organic chemicals, metals, and inorganic chemicals. Radon or radium may be present in some areas.
Here’s a list of some common water issues and what tests you want to consider if you see those issues.
Testing your water supply
You can take a water sample to a local state-certified lab. There are also quite a few inexpensive and easy-to-use in-home tests. Here are some to start with.
Easy home tests
These tests give immediate or very fast results and are very inexpensive. These tests are made to conform with EPA standards for water quality, but are performed at home by you ad not by an EPA certified laboratory. The downside is that you need to follow the directions carefully or you will get inaccurate results. Costs for these tests run between $17 and $50.
TestAssured. Tests for Lead, Bacteria, Pesticide, Iron, Copper, Alkalinity, pH, Hardness, Chlorine, Nitrates and Nitrites.
Health Metric Well Water Test. Tests for pH, manganese, coliform bacteria, nitrates, nitrites, hydrogen sulfide, hardness, and alkalinity.
Health Metric Heavy Metals Test. Tests for lead, mercury, copper, and iron.
Health Metric Coliform Bacteria Test. Tests for total coliform bacteria.
Culligan Essentials Water Lab Test Kit. Tests for Lead, Pesticide, Bacteria, Nitrate, Nitrite, Hardness, Iron, pH, Chlorine, and Copper; PLUS Total Dissolved Solids, (electronic TDS meter included)
If you want a more sensitive or more accurate testing method, or one with results from an EPA certified lab, you can take your water sample to a local lab or mail in your sample with one of these kits to an EPA certified lab. These are a little more expensive, costing between $120 and $170.
Safe Home Kit. Tests for 50 potential contaminants plus coliform bacteria. (1. Aggressive Index 2. Alkalinity 3. Aluminum 4. Antimony 5. Arsenic 6. Barium 7. Beryllium 8. Bicarbonate 9. Boron 10. Bromide 11. Cadmium 12. Calcium 13. Carbonate 14. Chloride 15. Chromium 16. Cobalt 17. Conductivity 18. Copper 19. Fluoride 20. Hardness 21. Hexavalent Chromium 22. Iron 23. Lead 24. Lithium 25. Magnesium 26.Manganese 27. Molybdenum 28. Nickel 29. Nitrate 30. Nitrite 31. pH 32. Phosphorus 33. Potassium 34. Saturation Index 35. Selenium 36. Silica 37. Silicon 38. Silver 39. Sodium 40. Stability Index 41. Strontium 42. Sulfate 43. Tannin-Lignin 44. Thallium 45. Tin 46. Titanium 47. Total Dissolved Solids 48. Turbidity 49. Vanadium 50. Zinc)
Drinking Water Specialists Essential Indicators Water Test. Tests For Over 170 Contaminants, including: 85 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), 81 Essential Elements, Heavy Metals & Inorganic Chemicals
Drinking Water Specialists Essential Indicators Well Water Test. Provides testing for Over 170 Contaminants, including: 85 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), 81 Essential Elements, Heavy Metals & Inorganic Chemicals, plus some bacterial species.
In-home water purification
If your testing shows a problem, or if you want to improve the quality of your water supply regardless of testing results, you can use or install a number of in-home purification methods.
I had no idea of the different types of water filtration and water quality standards available until I got a job that involved manufacturing pharmaceuticals, where water purification is a complex specialty. I went nuts in my first home after discovering this—I was on a well in an agricultural area with hard water, agricultural run-off, and heavy hydrogen sulfide and coliform bacteria, so at the well I had a hydrogen peroxide injection system, a carbon filtration system, and a water softener. In the house I added a reverse osmosis filter for our drinking water. It was an expensive system, but I had the best tasting and cleanest water in the area and I had confidence in my water quality.
You don't have to spend $5,000 on a purification system like I did back then. Currently, all I have is a good reverse osmosis system, and it's working great for us. I’ll cover a few of the systems that you can use at home. You won’t have pharmaceutical quality water, but you’ll be able to choose a system that works best for your situation and budget.
It’s important to realize that some of these methods, especially the counter top or on-faucet filtration systems, don’t filter everything out of your water and you need to carefully check what these systems will and won’t do, particularly if you have testing results and know what you need to remove from your water.
Regardless of the method you use, if your system isn’t maintained properly and filters changed regularly, then you can’t count on them working optimally, or even at all.
This section discusses several types of water filtration and purification and generally covers what they can remove. However, this is a general discussion and you will need to check each system you are considering as they all differ in what they specifically remove.
Carbon water filters are a common component of most filtration systems and can absorb sediment (dirt), odors, tastes, chlorine, benzene, radon, solvents, and volatile organic chemicals.
Carbon filters are NOT suitable for removing inorganic compounds, heavy metals (minerals, salts, antimony, arsenic, asbestos, barium, beryllium, cadmium, chromium, copper, fluoride, mercury, nickel, nitrates, selenium, sulfate, thallium and others—you’ll need a reverse osmosis system for these).
Some carbon filters can remove some large, dangerous microorganisms, such as giardia and cryptosporidium, that can cause a number of diseases and epidemics, but nothing less than the size of the carbon itself. Viruses and bacteria are too small to be removed by carbon.
Pitcher, refrigerator or on-faucet filters
These filters reduce sediment and, depending on the quality, can reduce contaminants such as lead, chlorine, asbestos, copper, and cadmium. They are typically carbon filter-based. Check the label to see the contaminants each filter can reduce, as well as the amounts of reduction. These filters remove the least amount of contaminants of the in-home water purification systems I’m covering here. They are also least expensive.
Whole-house (point of entry) or under sink (point of use) filters
These systems are very similar to the smaller pitcher, refrigerator, or on-faucet filters, except they work on all of the water in your home and can remove more contaminants because they are able to house larger and more complex filters. If you have particularly bad overall water quality and want to be able to use filtered water from some or all of the taps in your home, this may be a good option.
There is a huge variety of the types of contaminants these filters can remove, so you’ll need to check each one against your list of water contaminants.
Whole-house or point of use filters start at about $100 plus installation costs and can go as high as several thousand dollars. Some are easier to maintain than others, so If you have minimal plumbing skills, be sure to get one that has easy-to-change filters and other maintenance needs.
Whole-house systems are particularly useful if you are on a well or have another set up where you have a water storage tank, as the filter can be installed before the storage tank so that you have an ample supply of clean water available.
There are several whole-house options that are straightforward to install in most circumstances if you have decent DIY skills.
iSpring 2-Stage fine sediment and carbon filter, removes up to 95% of VOCs, sediment, chlorine, and other contaminants
iSpring 3-Stage Fine sediment and carbon filter, removes sediment, chlorine, rust, pesticides, herbicides, industrial solvents, VOCs, and various other contaminants
iSpring 3-stage Iron and manganese removal, removes sediment, chlorine, iron, manganese, rust, pesticides, herbicides, industrial solvents, VOCs, and various other contaminants
iSpring 3-stage lead and iron removal, removes sediment, chlorine, lead, Iron, rust, pesticides, herbicides, industrial solvents, VOCs, and various other contaminants
Express Water 3-stage heavy metal filter, removes chlorine, iron, rust, lead, pesticides, mercury, dirt, sand, viruses, fungi, sulfur, insecticides, chloramine, silt, turbidity, aluminum, copper, volatile organic chemicals (VOC), herbicides, cadmium, copper, hydrogen sulfate, nickel, chromium, cloudiness, and odors
Water softeners remove minerals such as calcium and magnesium that cause hard-water scale in your pipes and fixtures. Some higher-end water softeners also remove iron, manganese, some heavy metals, some radioactivity, nitrates, arsenic, chromium, selenium, and sulfate. Water softeners do not remove parasites/protozoa, bacteria, and viruses.
Reverse Osmosis (RO) systems
Reverse osmosis (RO) systems or distillers remove a large number of impurities and contaminants from your water including minerals, salts, most organic compounds, lead, asbestos, dissolved organics, heavy metals, heavyweight volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and chlorinated pesticides.
RO systems also remove most (but not all) bacteria, viruses, and parasites/protozoa from your water.
RO does NOT remove all pesticides, herbicides, and chlorine, but can reduce them as much as 99%.
RO systems can be installed for your entire house or at an individual sink. They are relatively inexpensive and if you are moderately handy they are not difficult to install yourself. We use an RO system that cost under $120 that I installed myself in under an hour.
Maintenance is fairly simple. There are several filters that need to be changed about once or twice a year. Some RO systems are available for less than $100, but be sure to check the filtration capabilities against your own water testing results as different systems have different capabilities.
RO and distillation are different methods of purification, but for home-use purposes, distilled bottled water is similar to RO water.
The quality of bottled water is entirely dependent on the source of the water.
Not all bottled water is purified at the bottling plant, many bottled waters are simply bottled tap water and not necessarily any better than your own tap water, and some, surprisingly, may be much worse quality than your tap water. You’ll need to investigate each individually.
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“Home Water Testing.” US Environmental Protection Agency. https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-11/documents/2005_09_14_faq_fs_homewatertesting.pdf. Last viewed 20 September 2019