Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Supported by

Is Our Tap Water Safe?

Is the water that comes out of our taps safe?
William Warby/Flickr

Is the water that comes out of our taps safe?

Flint, Michigan has become synonyms with dangerous water. The city is now using bottled water because it's water supply is contaminated with lead. 

In November, the city's mayor declared a state of emergency over the crisis, but it is all tied to the decision in 2014 to switch the city's water supply to the Flint River. 

And while there is blame to spread around in Michigan, other cities and states are starting to re-examine their water supplies to just how safe they are. 

Las Vegas gets its water primarily from Lake Mead, which is filled with water from the Colorado River.

Eric Marchand is an associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Nevada Reno. 

He told KNPR's State of Nevada because the water flows down through the Colorado River Basin it fills with minerals that many people in Southern Nevada don't like. However, he says those minerals are not harmful.

"It picks up a lot of mineral content," he said, "It basically dissolves rock, for lack of a better term, and those minerals end up accumulating in Lake Mead and that gives it its mineral quality."

He said when treating water the first priorities are removing bacteria or chemicals that are harmful. The second is stopping the water from being contaminated during treatment.

 "Taste and odor issues are considered secondary in the regulatory arena," Marchand said. "They're definitely important from a water purveyor perspective but we really want to make sure that public health is maintained as the number one priority."

Pat Mulroy ran the Southern Nevada Water Authority for more than 20 years. She called the water situation in Flint "incomprehensible."

However, she believes the water in Southern Nevada is fine. 

Mulroy pointed to the extensive testing done on the water quality as one reason she is confident in the water supply.

"The water authority has been more than diligent in its testing and transparency in terms of water quality," she said, "Where the normal utility around the world does about 400 water quality tests, in Southern Nevada we do 9,000."

Mulroy said the SNWA invested in sophisticated testing of water and uses one of the largest ozonation plant in the country to keep it clean.

She also said "there is not a lead pipe problem in Las Vegas," which is part of the problem in Michigan and other areas of the country. 

In the 90s, concerns grew about water quality in Southern Nevada after it was discovered that perchlorate, a chemical found in rocket fuel that interferes with normal thyroid function, was leaching into Lake Mead through groundwater.

It was coming from the site of a former chemical manufacturing plant in Henderson. Mulroy said the groundwater is being cleaned up through an agreement with Kerr McGee, which owned the plant at the time.   

"That's being removed before removed before it reaches Lake Mead now," she said, "Our perchlorate levels are extremely low."

Pat Mulroy, Senior Fellow at the Boyd School of Law at the University of Nevada/Las Vegas and from 1993-2014 the general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority (SNWA); Eric Marchand, associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Nevada/Reno

Stay Connected
Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.