Avoiding Costly Homebuying Mistakes: Environmental Concerns Part 3 - Water

by Lawrence Kostaneski

Copyright 1999 Centerline Press

Part 1 took a general look at environmental risks and sources, and Part 2 focused on air quality issues. Part 3 will concentrate on a topic that is arguably the most important of all: water.

Contamination of drinking water can be even subtler than air. Pollutants that can enter a water supply are frequently odorless, colorless and tasteless. A major concern for infants is nitrates, which can cause serious illness. Other pollutants come from septic tanks, drain fields or other on - site wastewater systems that are not functioning properly. When individual or community wells are used along with on-site wastewater systems, pollution can occur if one of the systems is in disrepair.

Most large, public water supplies are regulated by a State agency. The operators - usually a city - must test and report frequently. Any failure to report or meet the purity requirements is dealt with quickly.

Private systems may or may not be regulated, depending on the laws in your State. While water quality requirements generally fall under the federal Clean Water Act, many States are allowed to set their own criteria and methods for regulating small suppliers. It is these private systems that often have the most problems. To compound the problem, small systems don't always have the money needed to make major repairs.

The challenge for the homebuyer is learning whether the water supplied to the home is actually fit to drink. The system operator may not reveal this information unless under a State or court order. The seller may not be aware of it, or may have simply forgot: you can imagine the impact on the seller if they have to say the water supply is bad. Large municipal systems are usually reliable, but it never hurts to ask, particularly if you are moving into an unfamiliar area. Private systems deserve a great deal of research.

The best place to find this information is the State agency responsible for monitoring water supplies used for residential developments.

If you take no other advice, you would be wise to determine the quality of your drinking water, particularly if you plan on living in the country where the system is private and drain fields or other individual wastewater systems are in use.

Next Time: Environmental Concerns: Part 4 - Soil

Mr. Kostaneski is a registered professional engineer with over 20 years experience in the design and construction industry. He is President and Owner of Centerline, an engineering consulting firm. Comments are from his book, "A Home Buyer's Guide To Reality".

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