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Can I drink tap water in South Florida? How to check the quality of your water

 Aaron McElwain, 13, drinks some water after riding his scooter at Haulover Skateboard Park on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, in Miami Beach, Fla.
Matias J. Ocner
The Miami Herald
Aaron McElwain, 13, drinks some water after riding his scooter at Haulover Skateboard Park on Wednesday, June 14, 2023, in Miami Beach.

Clean water is essential to daily life, yet it's easy to take it for granted. Here are some ways to check your water quality.

To live in South Florida means to live next to water — whether that be the warm waters of the Atlantic or the flooded streets of Fort Lauderdale after a downpour.

Sea level rise and overdevelopment have impacted aging pipes, leading to sewage spills across South Florida. That was the case in 2019, after more than 200 million gallons of sewage spewed into Fort Lauderdale's streets, lawns and canals.

The prevalence of nano and microplastics have also raised concerns recently over the quality of water found in plastic bottles. Little is known about the health effects of nanoplastics.

That's why South Florida municipal and county utilities regularly monitor water quality to make sure that what comes out of our faucet is safe to drink.

They're on the look out for various contaminants such as pesticides, bacteria or heavy metals. These substances can stem from a number of sources ranging from metals found in urban stormwater runoff to pesticides in agricultural operations. In the case of a pipe break or leak, cities will trigger boil-water warnings, prompting utilities to send out public notices.

Clean water is essential to daily life, yet it's easy to take it for granted.

Doug Yoder, who served as deputy director at Miami-Dade County's Water and Sewer Department for 14 years, said it's important to know where your water comes from and what to do in case of an emergency.

"An interested customer is better to have than somebody who only reacts when something goes wrong," Yoder said.

Here are some ways to see if the water you're drinking is up to snuff.

Is the water coming from my tap safe to drink?

Yes. Florida, like every state in the U.S., must set and enforce drinking water regulations, as stipulated in the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). While they must adhere to these federal laws, states can also pass more stringent regulations. If you still feel wary about drinking from the tap, residents can always buy filters at the nearest grocery store.

Does a water filter make tap water safer?

Not necessarily — it depends on what you're trying to filter out.

Yoder said that the most common filters, like Brita filters, use activated carbon to absorb some contaminants in water. Some people may choose to filter their water this way if they taste chlorine, which is used to disinfect drinking water. Just make sure to replace the filter as instructed, Yoder advised. Otherwise, the filter can become saturated and start leaking carbon particles into the water.

There are also very microscopic filters that use a process called reverse osmosis to get rid of "forever chemicals" or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). These chemicals are found in consumer and industry products and take a very long time to break down. Although, microscopic filters can be effective against PFAS, they tend to be more expensive, Yoder said.

What if I have a private well? 

Private well owners whose water is not monitored by public utilities should have their water routinely tested, according to the Florida Department of Health. If you live in an agricultural area and have a private well, health officials said it's important to test for nitrates. If ingested, nitrates can cause "blue baby syndrome" in infants under three months of age. Excessive nitrates can reduce oxygen in the blood, causing skin to turn a bluish color.

Where does South Florida get its water?

The water you use to drink, bathe and flush toilets comes from groundwater. About 80% of Florida residents rely on public water systems to get their water. That groundwater lies just below our feet in porous limestone that forms the shallow Biscayne Aquifer and allows water to flow easily. All Southeast Florida counties, with the exception of one section of Palm Beach County, rely on the Biscayne Aquifer for water.

How do I know if I have poor water quality?

There are two ways to check the quality of your water, Yoder said. South Florida counties release annual reports as required by the Environmental Protection Agency. Each report includes a breakdown of test results, parameters for testing and how water is treated and purified. Find your county's annual water quality report below:

The second method involves gathering samples and sending them to a lab. You can reach out to your county's health department to analyze and get specific results. Cloudy water, a different odor or color can indicate something’s wrong with your water.

At-home tests that can be bought online may prove to be more cumbersome and less accurate because there's a higher risk of contaminating a sample, Yoder noted. Ultimately, Yoder said it's important to contact your local wastewater department and water utility if you notice anything unusual with your water.

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Alyssa Ramos