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Drinking Water

Drinking Water – What is the problem?


Water is a basic necessity of life. Here in the Great Lakes region, it seems like water is everywhere—from big lakes, rivers and inland lakes, to the water flowing from our taps. But the sad news is that our drinking water sources are not always safe.

Lead contamination from old pipes, toxins from chemicals in the environment and toxins from harmful algal blooms are showing up in our drinking water and bottled water. How do you know if your water is safe to drink? You can’t taste, smell, or see lead, PFAS or many other chemicals, or toxicity from algae in your water. The only way to know for sure is to test your water.

Most States provide test kits for chemicals such as lead, nitrates, chlorides, and bacteria testing (e-coli) at a relatively low cost. If your water comes from a public supply you can still have your water tested for lead, PFAS, and other substances to know what is coming from your tap. Public supplies are required to publish annual water quality reports called consumer confidence reports and which are often available on the municipalities’ websites. These reports provide water quality information about the water before it is distributed through infrastructure (pipes).

Healthy people and communities require access to safe drinking water, that is why Freshwater Future has been working with leaders and communities to address threats such as lead contamination, PFAS and harmful algal blooms for years.


Drinking water policies are now at the forefront of public attention, and Freshwater Future has been working on water infrastructure policies with residents and groups in the communities most impacted, such as Flint, Detroit, Toledo, Chicago and Benton Harbor.  Over the last year, we organized virtual convenings, supported community priorities, and piloted innovative programs to address water infrastructure issues. We also helped amplify local voices and increased visibility of regional issues to address issues such as lead in drinking water, water affordability,  PFAS–poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances in drinking water, and water shutoff moratoria during the pandemic.


Community priorities in the Great Lakes region are focused on water safety, water affordability, combined sewer issues, and future maintenance and replacement of infrastructure in ways that take advantage of new methodologies and help to maintain affordability.  Toxic pollutants, such as poly- and perfluoroalkyl chemicals, called PFAS are being found in drinking water sources around the region in both urban and rural locations. Freshwater Future works closely with community-based groups providing a variety of services to support their work including grants for projects and capacity building assistance. Freshwater Future’s capacity building assistance provides individualized services designed to address and help community groups based on their specific needs.  Because we are well connected to community needs we develop deep relationships and understanding of water issues and how they play out in real-time. Freshwater Future works to connect community interests with policy groups with the intention of informing and improving strategies to address those most impacted.


Unfortunately, our laws have not kept up with drinking water impacts. Lead contamination highlights the breakdowns in how our drinking water is tested and the systemic problems with regulations and our government systems. Harmful algal blooms threaten drinking water safety in several locations. The cost of water continues to increase, placing a much higher burden on our impacted communities, that has resulted in massive water shutoffs that increase costly public health problems. Regulations for emerging toxins such as PFAS don’t exist. New chemicals and new ways of using chemicals are not sufficiently regulated through these laws.