Where Does Houston's Water Come From?

Earlier this week, we told you about nationwide drinking water report that highlighted the large number of chemicals found in Houston's tap water. While the levels of each chemical were too small to raise health alarms, it still begs the question: where do all those chemicals come from? From the KUHF NewsLab, Melissa Galvez reports.

Housing developments like this one are popping up all over Houston. But when they're built too close to our drinking water sources-like the Trinity and San Jacinto Rivers, and Lake Houston-all our stuff becomes a problem for the water we drink. This is Charlotte Wells, with the non-profit Galveston Baykeeper.

"The fertilizer, if we fertilize our yard, or put weed and feed, when it rains, like it did today, that water runs off into our creeks, our bayous and our streams and then they're washing into our drinking water."

Oil from cars, dog feces, paint, boating fuel-it all eventually washes into Lake Houston.  Then the city has to go through a complex treatment process to make it drinkable.  It's unlikely we'll stop building new houses anytime soon, but environmentalists say we can pay attention to where houses are built.

"What we're looking at in my opinion is one of the most beautiful forests that we have…"

In Eisenhower Park along Lake Houston, Sierra Club volunteer Brandt Mannchen shows me how natural land, like forests, soak up contaminants before they even reach rivers and lakes.  He says a buffer of undeveloped land next to source water can save the city money and energy in treatment later on.

"We have this flood plain fringe here, and if you keep that natural what they've shown is that this filters out a lot of pollution and it does it for free."

New York City is famous for its watershed protection program.  They've bought up over 100,000 acres along their water source.  Largely because of this, New York City is one of only 5 cities in the country that does not filter their water.  In Houston, the non-profit Legacy Land Trust works with private landowners to encourage conservation.  But executive director Jennifer Lorenz says the city can also play an important role.

"We really want and need to work more with the City of Houston water division, because we are protecting that water source.  But they probably should put some money, just like the City of New York did."

Houston Department of Public Works' Alvin Wright says that the city is considering purchasing some wetlands along the Trinity River in partnership with the Coastal Water Authority.  But generally, they focus on education, and enforcement of pollution laws.

"We feel it's very important for the community to be a partner in what we're doing, so we meet with them on routine basis, but not only that, and of course we have lake patrol, HPD monitors to make sure  there isn't anybody out there doing anything illegal that would cause contaminants to be in our water."

Mannchen and Wells say that catching illegal dumping is important, but that the more pervasive problem is simply all the stuff that we create every day.

From the KUHF NewsLab, I'm Melissa Galvez.