An introduction to drinking water in Oregon
Oregon’s drinking water protection program assists public water systems and communities with protecting their sources of drinking water (streams, lakes and aquifers) from contamination. Drinking water protection is implemented in Oregon through a partnership of DEQ and the Oregon Health Authority. The program addresses over 2500 public water systems in Oregon.
Assuring safe drinking water depends on public water suppliers implementing multiple successful practices:
- Protect the drinking water source
- Practice effective water treatment
- Conduct regular monitoring for contaminants to assure safety
- Protect the distribution system piping and finished water storage from recontamination
- Practice competent water system operation, maintenance, and construction
These practices are collectively called “multiple barrier public health protection”. Source water protection is an important first step because starting with the best possible quality source water helps assure that water treatment can be effective at all times.
Source water protection is accomplished by effective state public health programs, environmental protection, land use policies, pro-active land stewardship, and by implementation of local drinking water protection efforts by communities and public water suppliers. The susceptibility of the public drinking water system source depends on both the natural conditions in the watershed as well as the anthropogenic activities in the watershed.
DEQ and OHA encourage community-based protection and preventive management strategies to minimize risks to public drinking water resources from future contamination.
DEQ's current activities
DEQ plays an important role in ensuring high quality drinking water in Oregon. The Oregon Health Authority is the agency that ensures the customers of public water systems receive drinking water that meets the Safe Drinking Water Act regulatory standards. But safe drinking water is not only dependent upon good treatment and distribution systems, it is dependent upon high quality sources of water. DEQ’s role is to implement the Clean Water Act to protect the sources of drinking water across the state. In practice, this means identifying the small watersheds and portions of aquifers that collect surface water and groundwater for each of Oregon’s community drinking water supplies.
DEQ’s drinking water protection program is currently working on two key products that will assist community public water systems to develop “place-based plans” to reduce pollutants in their upstream source waters.
“Updated Source Water Assessments” are reports that provide new data, maps, and technical information to each public water system. DEQ will provide the reports to surface water systems and OHA will provide the reports to groundwater systems. For the surface water systems, DEQ prioritized the 52 coastal systems. All of those are now complete and the individual reports for the coastal water systems can be accessed on DEQ’s Drinking Water Assessments page.
Resource Guides for both surface water and groundwater public water systems are being developed to provide more technical assistance, funding information, and resources to public water systems in Oregon. In 2015, a “Coastal Resource Guide” was drafted and sent out for initial review. Based on comments, DEQ determined that the process for reviewing and revising the document would take significant time. Instead of finalizing the Coastal Resource Guide, DEQ determined that the coastal document will be expanded to be a statewide resource guide. The first draft of the “Surface Water Resource Guide” should be available for review in 2017.
A companion "Groundwater Resource Guide" was completed and reviewed by state agencies and other partners in 2017. The October 2017 "Version 1" document is available for use by public water systems.
Groundwater Resource Guide, version 1
Comments and suggested changes for improving the document were accepted until May 19, 2017 and are currently being incorporated.
Additional resources and information
Most drinking water, particularly in urban areas, is obtained through public water systems that serve multiple homes or entire communities. These can be groundwater wells or surface water intakes (pipes drawing from streams and rivers). If a well or intake serves more than three homes or connections, it is regulated as a public water system in Oregon.
If you get a monthly water bill, the name and telephone number of your water system operator should be on the bill. Call this number for more information on the source of your drinking water. You can also access information on the water system using the Oregon Health Authority Drinking Water Program’s online database. (See “Drinking Water Data Online” and use the water system “WS Name Lookup” feature to find your water system.)
If you're a renter and don't receive a water bill, call your landlord for the water system name. Other potential sources of information about your water include DEQ’s interactive map viewer, your local county health department, your local Oregon Water Resources Department watermaster district office at 503-378-8455, or the OHA Drinking Water Program at 971-673-0405.
In rural areas, household drinking water commonly comes from private wells (or less commonly, through surface water intakes). If your water comes from a household well or intake (serving one to three households), it is considered a "private" or "domestic" water supply” in Oregon. If you get your water from a private well or intake, you're responsible for its maintenance, testing and operation. DEQ provides some limited information for private well owners and more is available from Oregon Health Authority’s Domestic Well Safety program.
Public water systems by law must sample and test for contamination on a regular basis and report the results to consumers. You can get the most recent "Consumer Confidence Report" for your water system from the water provider. Find the contact person for your water system and access the most recent test results on OHA's Drinking Water Services website. Click on "Data Online" and use the "WS Name Look Up" or "WS ID Look Up" to access system information.
Additional resources for understanding public water system regulations and treatment are on OHA's Drinking Water Program website. The “For Consumers” section (in the right sidebar) has information on the possible health effects of drinking water with various chemicals, home treatment systems and consumer confidence reports.
For additional help in understanding public water system regulations and treatment, call OHA's Drinking Water Program at 971-673-0405.
Source Water Assessments are reports that provide data, maps, and technical information about the source of drinking water to each public water system. Source water assessments for Oregon public water systems were completed between 1999 and 2005. DEQ and OHA will be providing updates to many of the assessments in 2016 and 2017. The updated source water assessments supplement the original assessment and provide the water systems and communities more detailed information on the watershed or recharge area that supplies their well, spring or intake (the “drinking water source area”). Public water systems and local communities can use the information in the assessments to voluntarily develop and implement drinking water protection strategies.
Maps of the groundwater and surface water drinking water source areas and potential contaminant sources identified within those drinking water source areas are also available in several other formats including an online interactive mapping tool and GIS data layers.
Drinking water sources, whether from a watershed or aquifer recharge area, are subject to a variety of potential point and nonpoint sources of pollution from natural and human (anthropogenic) sources. Identifying potential pollutants provides local awareness and assists the community in developing risk reduction measures.
The Oregon Health Authority Drinking Water Services administers and enforces drinking water quality standards for public water systems in the state of Oregon. DWS focuses resources in the areas of highest public health benefit and promotes voluntary compliance with state and federal drinking water standards.
Standards and treatment techniques protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants in drinking water can be found here:
The Safe Drinking Water Act currently regulates the 91 most commonly occurring pollutants in drinking water.
There are many pollutants not regulated in treated drinking water —including pharmaceuticals, personal care products and some pesticides used in Oregon. These "emerging contaminants" can be broadly defined as any synthetic or naturally occurring chemical or any microorganism that is not commonly monitored in the environment but has the potential to enter the environment and cause known or suspected adverse ecological and(or) human health effects. In some cases, release of emerging chemical or microbial contaminants to the environment has likely occurred for a long time, but may not have been recognized until new detection methods were developed. In other cases, synthesis of new chemicals or changes in use and disposal of existing chemicals can create new sources of emerging contaminants.
Through extensive sampling and analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey and others, we know that many pollutants found in Oregon streams cannot be fully removed through standard drinking water treatment technology commonly used by public water systems (Kolpin et al 2002; Blomquist/USGS 2001). This places even more emphasis in reducing or preventing pollutants in source waters. More information is available from USGS website.
In rural areas, household drinking water commonly comes from private wells (or less commonly, through surface water intakes). If your water comes from a household well or intake (serving one to three households), it is considered a "private" or "domestic" water supply in Oregon. If you get your water from a private well or intake, you're responsible for its maintenance, testing and operation. DEQ provides some limited information for private well owners
and more is available from Oregon Health Authority’s Domestic Well Safety
The Oregon Residential-Landlord Tenant Act (ORS 90.320) requires that all landlords maintain their rental units in a habitable condition, including providing a water supply maintained so as to provide "safe drinking water." If a renter has contaminated drinking water, the landlord is responsible for fixing or replacing the plumbing, or providing another source of safe drinking water. For mobile home parks that supply water to each home, the owner of the park is responsible for providing safe drinking water to the homes.
For more information on your individual rights, contact a private attorney or call "Legal Aid Services of Oregon" (a nonprofit assistance organization) at 1-800-228-6958.
- Oregon Health Authority Healthy School Facilities (OHA)
Includes information on Oregon rules for schools related to environmental health and information on addressing lead in school drinking water
- Drinking water in schools and child care facilities (EPA)
This site provides guidance documents for school officials and child care providers on how to implement voluntary programs and policies to ensure water quality in your facility when you don’t have your own drinking water well or intake. There is also guidance for best management practices for drinking water in a school or child care facility that has their own well and is an official public water system. This site also provides information of reducing lead and bacteria in their facility, how to avoid cross contamination, protect your water source, and water conservation tips.
- Healthy School Environments (EPA)
This site includes other health issues in addition to drinking water.
National Groundwater Association:
Activities, classroom materials, and lesson plans for K-12 educators and students on the subject of groundwater and drinking water. Includes a link to the Groundwater Foundation Student and Educator page which has additional activities and resources.
- Keeping it Clean: A Teacher's Guide to Student Involvement in Community Drinking Water Protection. Limited copies are available. To order, please contact Sheree Stewart, DEQ, at 503-229-5413.