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Ask a Redbird Scholar: How safe is Bloomington-Normal’s drinking water?

water tap

How does the drinking water in Bloomington-Normal compare to other cities in the United States?
—Jason Wagoner, director of Research and Sponsored Programs, Illinois State University

The City of Bloomington obtains water from two man-made reservoirs, the Lake Bloomington reservoir and Evergreen Lake reservoir. The Lake Bloomington reservoir is fed by runoff from 70 square miles of land, while the drainage area for the Evergreen Lake reservoir is 41 square miles.

A review of the City of Bloomington’s 2014 Consumer Report on the Quality of Tap Water reveals that our drinking water is meeting the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and monitoring in relation to these standards is an ongoing effort.

In the early 1990s, Bloomington’s drinking water exceeded the nitrate nitrogen standard set by the EPA. In response to this problem, the city partnered with the McLean County Soil and Water Conservation District and researchers at Illinois State University to limit nitrogen losses from agriculture (a primary source of pollutants at that time) through the use of changes in application practices among producers. As part of this effort, the City of Bloomington also “installed an experimental tile system that measured nitrate delivery from six individual five-acre plots, each with a different nitrogen application regime. Two experimental wetlands were built to accept the tile drainage and surface runoff from the research farm,” according to the 2014 Consumer Report on the Quality of Tap Water. These efforts at nutrient management have had a positive impact on keeping the drinking water supply in compliance with EPA standards over time.

In regards to how our drinking water compares to other U.S. communities, it is harder to find specific, data-driven studies at that national scale. The University of Cincinnati conducted a national study in 2007 comparing drinking water of 80 major metropolitan areas from the lower 48 states, representing approximately 176 million people. The City of Bloomington was not included in this study. Peoria was included, however, and its Annual Drinking Water Quality Report was very favorable with no violations of EPA limits for a variety of contaminants (United States Drinking Water Quality Study Report 2007).

“Water from both Bloomington and Normal compare quite favorably to other U.S. communities,” said Rick Twait, superintendent of water purification for the City of Bloomington. “Like the vast majority of community water supplies, we deliver water to our customers that meet or exceed all of the federal and state drinking water standards every day.”

Joan Brehm, professor of sociology, Department of Sociology and Anthropology (Editor’s note: Last year, Brehm helped conduct an assessment of water use and perceptions about water quality in the Lake Bloomington and Evergreen Lake watersheds.)

To submit a question for our “Ask a Redbird Scholar” section, email it to Kevin Bersett at kberse@IllinoisState.edu or tweet it to @ISUResearch. Chosen questions and answers appear in each issue of Illinois State’s new research magazine, the Redbird Scholar. To read other “Ask a Redbird Scholar” posts, visit IllinoisState.edu/RedbirdScholar.

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