With so much variation in the landscapes of NC, from the Coastal Plain to the Appalachian Mountains, it’s no surprise that residents across the state can have vastly different experiences when it comes to the quality of their tap water.
Here’s a look at how recent surveys and reports have rated North Carolina’s drinking water.
Unlike some states, the geography of North Carolina makes it historically a relatively easy place to find good drinking water. There are multiple natural water sources spread across regions, meaning that there’s not too much need for the water transportation intensive infrastructure seen in more western states transport water considered a water-rich state.
Increasing populations and changes to the overall climate have however affected North Carolinians’s water. Many deep aquifers containing lots of groundwater in the Coastal Plain region are fast depleting. Likewise, the lakes and rivers that bring drinking water to those in Piedmont and western Appalachia are suffering from a lack of rain in recent decades.
The longer that these trends continue, the more inventive local authorities must become about sourcing water from alternative and distant places.
Just as water sources in North Carolina are diverse, so is the quality of that water. For example, according to the American Water Works Association, drinking water in Raleigh is among the cleanest and most tasty in the state.
Other areas of NC, on the other hand, might be dealing with seriously high levels of contamination to their tap supply. State officials continue to monitor and investigate causes of contamination in eastern areas of North Carolina, where very high levels of industrial chemicals have been detected in drinking water.
Many believe that the relatively high concentration of military and industrial sites in the region has caused long-term effects on the make-up of topsoil and aquatic ecosystems.
The type of chemicals concerning many environmental and water quality experts in North Carolina are called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS. These substances have been used for decades to improve products and processes that require surfaces to be non-adhesive or stay tightly bound together.
For example, you can find these types of chemicals in products such as frying pans, stain-resistant furniture, rain gear, and cleaning product. Another large source of PFAS is the flame retardant foam used by firefighters.
Because PFAS are constructed specifically to not break down, Many experts fear that they are now widespread through many of the country’s waterways and natural environments.
In North Carolina, however, PFAS pollution may be particularly severe. Due to industrial processes carried out for years at the Chemours chemical plant Fayetteville, PFAS contamination is likely to have occurred through the Cape Fear River. This has caused high levels of pollution to register in readings of water across Brunswick and Wilmington counties.
While it’s likely that, at this point, we’re all consuming small amounts of PFAS and similar chemicals through our drinking water and food, scientists are concerned that those continuously exposed to higher levels of these substances may be more likely to experience negative health outcomes.
Effects of PFAS ingestion may include immunological conditions, thyroid issues, and endocrine disorders where natural levels of certain hormones in the body are disrupted.
Aside from worries of PFAS chemicals, other threats to drinking water quality in North Carolina stem from the fact that a large number of state residents aren’t connected to public water treatment works.
It’s estimated that as many as 3.3 million North Carolina residents instead use private wells to deliver water to their homes. These water sources don’t fall under state control and aren’t regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. As a result, the responsibility for treating water to safe levels falls to well owners—whether the homeowner or a private company.
The extent to which water from private wells needs to be treated depends a lot on the depth of the well and the features of the local environment. Very deep wells in wilder areas may only require treatment with reverse osmosis and carbon filters, shallower wells in agricultural areas may require more thorough disinfection and additional filtering stages.
As a state, North Carolina’s water is on the softer side, with many counties registering mineral levels lower than 35 parts per million.
Soft water means that a minimal amount of calcium and magnesium has been dissolved into water as it travels through bedrock and down rivers. When water has high levels of these minerals, it can cause scale to be deposited in pipes and kitchen appliances.
Soft water may still contain dissolved minerals, except that these minerals will be salts that can feel more pleasant on skin when bathing or swimming.