While residents in Tahlequah proper may not concern themselves over the quality of the water that runs through their pipes, those who live on rural properties and depend on wells need to make sure to get their water tested.
August is National Water Quality Month, a period dedicated to raising awareness about water quality throughout the United States.
“The biggest thing you need to do to ensure your water quality is to make sure you know where your water comes from,” said Garrett Ford, agriculture educator for the OSU Extension Service in Cherokee County. “You’d be surprised to find out how many people have no idea where they are getting their water from.”
Ford also advises against drinking from streams and rivers.
A recent report by OSU Extension, compiled by Courtney Bir, farm management specialist, and Lixia H. Lambert, assistant professor, Cherokee and Pottawatomie counties had the highest violation count during a recent study on water quality in the state.
“Bear that in mind when you are walking through the woods,” said Ford.
Those who own wells need to make sure to test that there are no heavy metals and there is no E. coli in the water. That requires going through the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality.
“We get a lot of questions at the office on what kind of water tests we perform. We tell them that we can’t verify their water. We can see if their water is good for livestock. Our lab in Stillwater is not equipped to certify water for humans, but it is for livestock because the standards are different,” he said.
Consumers can start by using their senses to gauge the quality of their water.
“If you are unsure, there are some pretty easy tests you can conduct with your senses. You can look at the water to see if it looks cloudy, smell the water, and if the water tastes bad, then that should raise concern,” said Ford.
At-home examinations are not a substitute for professional tests.
The Tahlequah Public Works Authority is the utility company that provides Tahlequah with its drinking water. While water that derives straight from rivers and creeks in Cherokee County is not safe to drink, the same is not true for municipal water.
“We are under strict regulations under the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Jerry Linn, water plant facilities superintendent. “The State Department of Environmental Quality is just there to enforce federal EPA regulations. A lot of it comes down to the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974.”
TPWA invests time and money to ensure the city has water that is safe to drink and that tastes good to its customers.
“We’ve got several tests that we run on a regular basis to ensure that we are meeting those regulations for treatment processes. We’ve got chlorination to disinfect, and we also take regular turbidity samples. Turbidity is best described as the cloudiness of the water,” he said.
The hard work has paid off, as in 2019, TPWA won an award for the Great American Water Taste Test, and it received a gold medal for best water in the U.S. through the Rural Water Association.