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Manteca water safe but theres debate over taste

What’s safer to drink: Manteca tap water or bottled water?

Issues about taste aside, it is water flowing from your faucet.

That’s because the City of Manteca is mandated to adhere to Environmental Protection Agency standards. Those are much more stringent that Food and Drug Administration standards that regulate bottled water that’s considered by the federal government as a food product.

“What many people don’t realize is the EPA guidelines for portable water are more stringent than FDA (standards),” noted Manteca Public Works Director Mark Houghton. “In other words, tap water will meet FDA standards but bottled water may or may not meet EPA standards.”

Manteca used 502 million gallons of water, whether it came from surface or underground sources, during June. That’s a 20.4 percent reduction over June 2013 when Manteca consumed 631 million gallons. The drop in consumption met Gov. Jerry Brown’s call for a statewide 20 percent reduction in water use when he declared a drought emergency in January.

Even before the current drought, Manteca potable water consumption per capita was dropping. Household use was at 214 gallons per capita in 2005 compared to 195 gallons per capita in 2013. While part of that has to do with more low flush toilets, water efficient washing machines, and low flow shower heads that have reduced the biggest household uses of water, Houghton said a large chunk of the drop has been using non-potable water wells to irrigate city parks. The single biggest use for water in Manteca is the 54 municipal parks and golf course.

The city’s 25 non-portable wells go down no farther than 200 feet tapping into water that is considered non-drinkable and is heavy in nitrates. Drinking water sources are down between 300 and 400 feet. The city has 15 potable water wells.

The use of non-potable water does three things:

• It reduces the use of more expensive treated water to irrigate grass.

• It improves water pressure especially in the morning when a lot of people are showering and watering their lawns since that is when parks are also usually  irrigated. 

• And it helps parks stay greener for less money as nitrates are essentially a fertilizer.

“The irrigation wells significantly reduce demand for portable water,” Houghton said. “However, we should note that it still draws from the groundwater supply that we rely on for our water. So wasting water is never appropriate.”

While water tapped 200 feet or closer to the surface is non-potable, eventually over the years it seeps further down through rock strata that cleanse the eater further making it potable by the time it reaches the aquifer than Manteca and other cities.

• • •

The taste issue

So why does city water taste bother some people?

The short answer: Chlorine.

Chlorine is required by state and federal health standards to assure water safety. It is also used in water bottled by a number of firms for retail sale. But they take additional steps ranging from agitating the gases out to running it through carbon filters.

“Chlorine is the most common odor/taste complaint,” Houghton said. “Drawing your drinking water through a carbon filter is the most effective way to reduce the chlorine taste/smell. The next best method is to draw a pitcher of water and leave it in the refrigerator overnight and then use that water to drink the next day.”

The pitcher overnight method works because after water has sat for awhile the chlorine gas dissipates naturally.

• • •

Water safety

Water safety is an issue that alarms some who believe water should have no trace elements of anything but H20.

But water naturally has all sorts of minerals in it including arsenic. The human body also needs a small amount of arsenic to function properly. The issue is the amount of each mineral as well as whether there are other foreign substances.

If you think bottled water is only “water” then read a label the next time you sip from that dollar’s worth of 16.9 ounces of water from a plastic bottle. Besides water, the ingredients label lists potassium bicarbonate, sodium bicarbonate, calcium, citrate, sodium chloride, and magnesium oxide. It doesn’t list trace amount of other minerals that are below the FDA reporting threshold including arsenic.

Manteca has spent $10 million plus in recent years on arsenic treatment plants at specific water wells even though there has not been an illness due to the city exceeding standards. Instead it was done for new standards put in place by the federal government that  — even if exceeded — haven’t been tied to any serious illness or death although there is a consensus infants and older senior citizens drinking levels that high for a prolonged period could develop health issues.

“We never exceeded the arsenic (level) when it was 50 parts per billion,” Houghton said. “No comment on the justification for the new standard. I do know areas with much higher natural levels. I think it is a classic, oh we have the technology to measure it so it must be bad.”

Houghton noted that even with the significantly lower tolerance levels for arsenic, Manteca has been in compliance with all state and federal regulations for over a year.

“The annual confidence report that was mailed out recently is required by law and demonstrates the excellent quality of water delivered to Manteca residents,” Houghton noted.

Houghton said most inquiries from the public reference the harshness of the city’s water which tends to be greater in neighborhoods where well water is the main source for drinking and other uses.

“City staff is dedicated and passionate about providing our customers with safe drinking water,” Houghton added.

• • •

Water costs

Manteca is a rarity among municipalities as there has not been a water rate increase for almost seven years.

Part of that credit goes to a council decision to adjust rates high enough years ago to build reserves needed for ongoing maintenance and capital improvements. It also underscores staff’s never ending drive to find ways to reduce costs.

The water flowing from your tap is arguably the best bargain in your household.

Americans spent $11.8 billion in 2012 buying 9.7 billion gallons of bottled water. That was up 6.5 percent from the previous year.

That translates into a $1.22 a gallon or, based on figures supplied by the American Water Works Association, 300 times the cost of tap water.

When the water bought in 16.9-ounce bottles is separated out, the cost skyrockets. It is more than 2,000 times the cost of tap water.