Image by Chihonglee, via Wikimedia Commons

For all of Baltimore’s infrastructural problems, our drinking water is first-rate, according to a magazine’s new ranking of municipal water systems.

The folks over at men’s luxury publication Best Magazine took the time to rank U.S. cities’ drinking water based on measurable contaminants, pollution potential and an industry nonprofit’s taste tests of water supplies. The conclusion they drew may surprise you: Baltimore has the 10th best drinking water in the United States.

The ranking says Baltimore’s water supply has just three contaminants for which concentrations exceed health guidelines. According to the Environmental Working Group, the source for that info, they’re chromium, total triohalomethanes and hormones.

While three may seem like a lot, only six of the top 25 ranked cities had fewer detectable contaminants with concentrations higher than guidelines advise. For perspective, second-ranked Tallahassee had four, and third-ranked Louisville, Ky., registered six.

A 2016 win in the American Water Works Association’s drinking water taste test certainly helped Baltimore’s case in the ranking, as did the low density of agricultural or manufacturing facilities near water supplies. The city gets its drinking water from natural sources – rainfall and snowmelt – and stores it at three reservoirs in Carroll and Baltimore counties. Those areas are forested, serving as a natural filter from industry chemical contaminants.

On the topic of lead, the leading cause of concern for water consumers thanks to the Flint water crisis, officials have said Baltimore is in good shape. As Department of Public Works spokeman Kurt Kocher told Baltimore Fishbowl in May, “We don’t have lead pipes in our system.”

That’s not to say that it’s entirely absent. In 2015, the last time the city’s water was tested for lead, excessive amounts were detected in two of 52 water samples. And only 10 years ago, the city shut off all water fountains in schools after finding widespread lead contamination. (Baltimore City Public Schools has begun testing new lead filters at two schools plus district headquarters to see if the water in schools is now safe to drink.)

While our drinking water is initially stored in the counties, it’s filtered in the city limits at Lake Montebello in Northeast Baltimore and Lake Ashburton to the west. Chemicals, including chlorine, are used to help cleanse the water, pumping out as much as 360 million gallons of drinking water per day. Some of that goes to reservoirs near the filtration plants, such as Lake Ashburton, or to ones in Guilford and, soon, Druid Lake.

Kocher said in May that the city’s only recorded violation from 2017 chemical testing was due to excessive chlorination in an isolated area at one of the Lake Montebello plants. “It really didn’t have any impact on anybody,” he said.

Officials have said the drinking water supply will only improve, with enhancements including replacement of water mains and the addition of underground storage tanks to store fully filtered drinking water. One of those projects is on display to anyone who visits Druid Lake, where crews are installing two tanks that will hold 54 million gallons combined.

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...

2 replies on “Baltimore’s Drinking Water Ranked the 10th Best in the Country”

  1. Ethan, this is wonderful news, and I love your publication. However, as a grammar enforcer, and a fellow Scot, I have to point out that you do not use the Oxford comma. I don’t think I have to tell you, an Oxford Comma is a comma used before the last list item in a list of three or more items. Oxford commas are very important, and I am surprised at the number of very educated people who don’t use them, particularly when writing is their career.

    1. Thanks for your note, Georgia. You probably find comma usage in most news coverage to be frustrating, as many outlets in 2017 still adhere to AP Style, which in most cases calls for omitting the serial comma. I’ll link to this Twitter thread for the AP Stylebook’s explanation as to why.

      Just FYI, it’s probably best not to tie serial comma usage directly to a writer’s education level, as oftentimes they’re simply adhering to the rules of their profession.

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