READING, PA (February 10, 2020) – In the spring of 2014, the City of Flint, Mich., switched the source of its water supply, but failed to treat the water correctly. As a result, lead from old pipes leached into the water. More than 100,000 people were exposed to unsafe levels of lead. A pediatrician from Flint told me heartbreaking tales of children who had astonishingly high levels of lead in their blood that resulted in permanent developmental disabilities.
Most Berks Countians take water for granted. We expect to turn on the faucet and have an ample supply of safe water come out of the tap.
But how safe is the water in Berks County? That’s the question that we set out to answer through our Berks Vital Signs project.
We hired independent journalist Anthony Orozco to take a look at the state of water in Berks County. Anthony’s three-part series is a must-read for informed Berks Countians. He covers a gamut of water-related issues, including water quality, threats to the water we drink, fluoridation, and aging infrastructure.
Everyone will have their own take on a piece of reporting this big. Here were my three big “aha” moments from the work.
Acknowledge threats to water
First, bad farming practices are harming our waterways. Berks Countians, me included, love our agricultural heritage. But almost a quarter of the miles of stream in Berks County are rated as “impaired,” which means the water doesn’t meet the standards for its intended use. Much of that impairment comes from farms that aren’t working hard enough to, for instance, limit the amount of manure that gets into nearby streams.
There’s some evidence that we’re getting better on this front, but we shouldn’t accept the idea that we have to choose between clean water and farming. There are also other threats, such as industrial pollution, that we also need to be vigilant about as a community.
Know your supplier
My second takeaway was that everyone should know who their water suppliers are. There are almost 80 water systems in Berks County. They range in size from serving 87,000 customers to serving just 30 customers. In total, about 250,000 Berks Countians get their water from a water system.
Those systems are to be regularly tested and the results are available in an Environmental Protection Agency Database that can be found here. Consumers can access the database and reach their own conclusions about how comfortable they are with the management of the water system from which they draw. To my eye, some of the systems have surprisingly few violations given their size, while others have what would look like a disturbingly large number.
Test your well
Finally, between thirty and forty percent of us are our own water system. To a greater extent than most of the United States, we rely on wells. While the water of the water systems is tested daily, I doubt most of us in rural Berks County think much about it. I know I haven’t had our water tested since our well was built decades ago, and I’ve resolved to get that done more frequently as a result of Anthony’s piece.
Berks Vital Signs is part of our effort to provide Berks Countians with objective, fact-based information about how we’re doing as a community. Taking a few minutes to read the research on water is time well invested.
Kevin K. Murphy, President
Berks County Community Foundation