Bacteria can be found everywhere, and in most cases are generally harmless for humans to come in contact with. However, there are certain bacteria that can be cause for concern, especially when those bacteria make their way into water systems.
Some forms of water-borne bacteria can be problematic, causing mild stomach upset or indigestion, while others can be serious, and may even require medical attention or treatment. We’ll look at what bacteria commonly appear in water supplies, where they come from, how you can tell if your water might be affected, and what you can do about it.
Water Bacteria: Common Culprits and Causes
While water bacteria is most often an issue affecting those who use well water, it’s not uncommon for municipal supplies to experience occasional issues with bacteria. Bacterial contamination can be an issue especially during periods of heavy rain or runoff which often impacts reservoirs and existing water treatment infrastructure.
Total Coliform – Coliform are a naturally-occurring and usually benign bacteria very common in the environment. While not always an indication of a problem in your water in themselves, they can signal that other types of coliforms, like fecal coliforms, could be in the supply. Read more below.
Fecal Coliform - As its name might suggest, fecal coliform indicates water has been contaminated by human or animal waste, commonly as a result of heavy runoff near agricultural areas. Fecal coliform contamination can cause stomach issues when ingested, ranging from mild upset for young and healthy people to more severe symptoms for children, expecting mothers, the elderly, and those who may already be immunocompromised.
E.coli - Having made its share of headlines, E.coli may be the most recognizable bacteria in water. As a form of fecal coliform bacteria, E.coli in water presents the same symptoms and is generally caused the same way (agricultural runoff, septic system malfunction, well or water infrastructure breakdown). Some forms of E.coli can be more serious than general fecal coliforms, especially for vulnerable members of the population.
Legionella - Legionella is also a commonly occurring bacteria. It becomes problematic when it’s aerosolized — or airborne — as it would if you were using legionella-contaminated water for an air conditioning unit, or to shower with (where legionella bacteria would form steam that could then be inhaled). Like coliform contamination, legionella contamination typically occurs through breakdowns in water infrastructure and/or during storms, floods, or other periods of increased runoff.
Giardia & Cryptosporidium – Found all over the world, giardia and cryptosporidium are a parasites that cause severe stomach upset when ingested. They are also closely associated with poor sanitation, waste-contaminated, or otherwise untreated water, and can be caused when runoff near agricultural areas exceeds the capacity of water infrastructure and treatment.
Identifying Bacteria in Water
The best way to tell if there is bacteria in your water is always to have it tested, although there are some signs to look for if you suspect you might have a problem with your water:
- Water begins leaving unusual or heavy staining around fixtures and drains, may be rust colored
- Water takes on an unpleasant (rotten eggs or moldy) smell
- Water is cloudy or discolored
If your water shows any of these symptoms, stop drinking and using it immediately it and call your local water authority.
Even if your water shows no outward signs of contamination, make it a habit to test your water at least once a year. If you use use well water, test it every 6 months to be sure your supply is safe and of good quality. You should also schedule a water test any time you do septic repairs or upgrades to ensure the work hasn’t impacted your water quality.
Treatment Options for Bacteria-Contaminated Water
While some of the common bacteria can be treated by boiling water, like giardia and cryptosporidium, others are more difficult to eliminate from drinking water. In those cases, you’ll want to be sure you’re treating water with a reverse osmosis filtration system, like the AC-30 Good Water Machine to effectively remove problematic bacteria.
If you live in an area that’s prone to boil orders, near a large agricultural or industrial area, or source water from an unreliable well, it makes sense to invest in a quality water filtration system for your home to ensure you always have access to fresh, filtered drinking water.
To protect yourself and your family from bacteria found in tap water, there are several options to choose from —whether you want filtration just at the kitchen sink, or a whole house of filtered water free from bacteria, you can count on your to help you find the right solution for your needs.