Owning a House on Municipal Water: Myths vs. Reality

Debunking Common Perceptions About Living on City Water

We recently explored the truth behind private well myths that homeowners might believe. Now, let’s explore the other side: living on a municipal water source. Is city water safer, better, or cheaper than owning a well? What treatment does the water need once it reaches your home? Here are some of the most common misconceptions that the Water Doctors team has heard and the reality about using municipal water at your home.

Myth #1: City Water Costs Less Than Well Water

Not exactly. We investigated this myth in our well water post as well. The total costs for well water and municipal water are similar, but what you’re paying for and how often differs.

If you use municipal water, your municipality charges you a relatively small amount, either monthly or quarterly. This cost covers usage, access, and infrastructure maintenance (usually for both water and sewer service), but the main factor determining the size of your water bill is how much water you use. If you have gardens to water, a hot tub, or a large family with lots of shower time, it can be difficult to control your expenses. The financial advantage of being on city water is that each payment isn’t too costly, and it helps to cover the city’s equipment and maintenance costs, so you won’t be hit with large surprise expenses.

Private well owners have higher upfront costs for equipment like pumps and pressure tanks, which are included in the cost of an existing home. As long as the equipment is kept in good shape, it should last up to 20 years without replacement. There are also some minor ongoing maintenance costs, but you won’t have the recurring bills that a city water user would have. Plus, you can use as much water as you like at no additional expense–water the lawn or fill up the pool worry-free!

There’s always the possibility that the cost of using municipal water will rise over time. The billing rate is determined by your city or town and is sometimes influenced by other factors like nearby cities, taxes, and infrastructure needs. For example, the Great Water Alliance estimated that the water bill for a typical Waukesha family would increase approximately $43 per quarter ($172 per year) from 2020 to 2021 as the city prepares to switch to Lake Michigan for its water supply. Bills never seem to decrease, so in some ways, owning a well gives you more predictable and controllable expenses.

Myth #2: Municipal Water Is Better Than Well Water (Or Vice Versa!)

Let’s get this one out of the way! Neither city water nor well water is “better,” though your neighbor or friend might argue otherwise. Some people simply prefer one over the other, whether because of the taste, the cost, the simplicity, or something else.

What’s important to note is that both city water and well water have issues that necessitate a water quality treatment solution. Our process for both types of water sources is nearly identical, with slight differences in the types of filters we use based on what we’re trying to eliminate from your water. With municipal water, we start by filtering out chlorine and similar disinfectants. With well water, our focus is on eliminating naturally occurring components like sulfur and iron. After filtration, both water sources are softened, protected from harmful pathogens, and treated for consumption.

Myth #3: The City Treats Water, so I Don’t Need To

Municipalities treat water before it reaches your home–that much is absolutely true. However, that doesn’t mean the water doesn’t need additional treatment. Sure, it will meet the government health standards, but legal compliance, not water quality, is the goal. Your water can be made better, safer, and more enjoyable with additional treatment.

If you need convincing, check out the Tap Water Database from Environmental Working Group (EWG), a third-party testing body. By inputting your ZIP code, you’ll see exactly what’s in your area’s water and how this compares to governmental parameters. And, as EWG notes, “The federal government’s legal limits are not health-protective. The EPA has not set a new tap water standard in almost 20 years, and some standards are more than 40 years old.” Since cities test their water almost continually, your city’s published water tests might not match what’s coming out of your faucet at any given moment.

It’s also worth noting that while municipalities try to provide protection, accidents happen. Inevitable leaks, breaks, and malfunctions in your area’s water mains are possible sources of debris and contaminants. (And, if you’re in Boston, you might even have to worry about wooden water mains!)

So, what’s included in your city’s treatment processes and what isn’t? Municipalities filter out sediment, provide some protection from pathogens and bacteria, and reduce iron levels. They can’t promise that your water will be “free” of pathogens, bacteria, or iron, especially since factors like chemical interactions and disinfectant resistance make this cost-prohibitive at a city-wide level. Your city water is also not softened, purified, or treated with a reverse osmosis system to make it ready for consumption.

That’s where Water Doctors can help! Our multi-step water treatment system is customized for your water’s unique makeup and your consumption.

Myth #4: Lake Michigan Water Is Soft Water, Ready to Use & Drink

Large portions of Southeast Wisconsin rely on Lake Michigan for water, and even more municipalities will be tapping in soon. Lake Michigan is a great source of fresh water, but it isn’t as perfect as you might think.

One of the significant pitfalls of Lake Michigan water is its hardness. Sure, it’s softer than the groundwater in Waukesha and other nearby areas, but it still measures 7.5 grains per gallon. For reference, water is considered “soft” when it’s less than 1 grain per gallon. If you switched from softened water to unsoftened Lake Michigan water, you’d notice a difference like drier skin or water spots on dishes. Lifelong lake water folks might simply be accustomed to how the water feels, which is why the myth that Lake Michigan water is soft persists.

There are other concerns associated with Lake Michigan water, including the long-term costs of multiple municipalities getting access, but don’t get rid of that water softener, because softening your water is a top priority if you’re tapped into this source.

Myth #5: The City Adds Harmful Chemicals to My Water

It’s true that municipal water treatment involves chemicals that are meant to make your water safer and healthier. These chemicals are helpful, to a point. However, most of these compounds aren’t needed by the time the water reaches your tap.

Take chlorine, for example. It’s a great disinfectant! We’ve been relying on it for decades to eliminate harmful substances from water as it travels from the city’s reservoir to your home. However, once the water has reached your home, you no longer need chlorine, as it doesn’t naturally occur in groundwater and provides no additional benefits. Plenty of people have adverse reactions, and this chemical can easily be absorbed into the skin, which isn’t good for your long-term health.

Fortunately, the Water Doctors team is skilled at eliminating chlorine and similar substances from your city water. We implement a multi-stage solution using top-rated systems from Kinetico and other leading manufacturers in order to give you safer, cleaner water. Dechlorination is just one step in our filtration process, which helps remove these unhealthy chemicals from your water while extending the life and efficiency of your water softener. Our whole-home filtration systems can also use ultraviolet light to eradicate chlorine-resistant contaminants, filling in the gaps in your city’s water treatment without introducing more chemicals.

Improve Your Municipal Water

Just because your home taps into city water doesn’t mean you have to live with it as-is. There are plenty of ways we can make your water taste better, feel better, and be better for you. Schedule a FREE consultation to get started!

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