Water Quality FAQs

Why am I receiving this report?

As part of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) wants to make certain that every consumer of tap water in the USA has information on the water they are drinking, and requires that utilities publish a yearly Consumer Confidence Report.  We call ours the Water Quality Report.

Bottom line… what does it say? I don’t have time to read the whole thing, and  don’t think I’ll understand it.

The report tells you, basically, how your water is treated, where it comes from – Potomac or Patuxent rivers - and the range and level of detection of any of the nearly 200 substances we test for in the water.

How can I find out about ALL of the parameters for which you test?

View our complete Tap Analysis.

How does our water compare to neighboring water utilities – especially northern Virginia?

Like us, the Potomac River is the major source for our neighbor utilities, and we use similar treatment processes.  Also, our Patuxent source is a higher quality source, and we treat that water with similar treatment processes as the Potomac source.  Thus, our water is generally very comparable to our neighbor utilities, and we are very proud of our track record of never having a drinking water standard violation.

Is my tap water safe to drink? Should I drink bottled water instead?

Your tap water is very safe to drink (although people with immune deficiencies should consult their physician about drinking tap water in general). At WSSC, we have never had a violation of any of the water quality standards set by USEPA. The standards for bottled water are set by the Food and Drug Administration and it undergoes much less stringent testing than tap water. It, too, can be expected to contain trace amounts of some contaminants.

How often do you test the water?

Frequency of analysis depends on the parameter or contaminant being measured. Some are measured constantly in real time. Others are monitored hourly, or daily, or weekly, and so forth. For example, dozens of samples per day are tested for bacteria, but some less common pesticides are monitored on a quarterly basis. We also test our water before, during, and after the treatment process.

Can I use my tap water to make my baby’s formula?

Because infants are particularly vulnerable to any organism in the water, the USEPA recommends that water used for baby’s formula be boiled before it is used.

Is my water safe for bathing and washing clothes?

Yes, unconditionally so.

Do you test for Cryptosporidium?

We monitored our Potomac and Patuxent source waters on a monthly or twice per month basis between October 2006 and September 2008 as required by EPA. The results of this monitoring indicated that our Cryptosporidium levels in both of our source waters are at low levels and that we do not need additional treatment to address the risk associated with these levels. We also conducted some special monitoring during the same period researching sources of Cryptosporidium within the Potomac watershed, which we've used to help focus source protection programs we are working on with regional partners. Currently, we are not routinely monitoring for Cryptosporidium based on the fact that our risk appears low and because we are not required to do so, but we are planning for an additional two years of monitoring beginning in 2015 as required by EPA.

In spite of the low risk, as an extra precaution WSSC is taking the most important steps in protecting against Cryptosporidium, which include maintaining effective coagulation and filtration processes in our water treatment plants as well as adding UV disinfection equipment to both our water treatment plants.

Is my water soft or hard?

Most of our customers receive their water from the Potomac Water Filtration Plant, and that water tends to be moderately hard. If you live in Laurel, Greenbelt or Beltsville, you are probably drinking water from the Patuxent Water Filtration Plant. That water tends to be softer. Customers living in the hatched area on the map, roughly Silver Spring to Landover, are receiving a blend of the water from both plants.

Why does my water smell bleachy?

WSSC uses free chlorine (often simply referred to as “chlorine”) to disinfect water.  Disinfection of drinking water is vital to protecting against diseases caused by microorganisms.  We use the minimum chlorine concentration necessary to achieve this disinfection goal. The amount of chlorine in your water may vary, and you may sense a slight bleachy odor from it. A bleachy smell can also come from a small amount of chloramines, which form when free chlorine combines with ammonia or organic nitrogen washed into the river by rain, melting snow or melting ice.  There are no adverse health effects from the odor produced from either chlorine or chloramine.


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