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  • Madison Bakatsias

The fight for clean water

Drinking water is something that everyone does, often without a second thought besides thirst. But, drinking water is not as clean as most people think.

In March, the Environmental Integrity Project released a study that found 55% of lakes and 25% of bays and estuaries assessed in Florida are impaired. These bodies of water were deemed unsafe for one or more public use, including swimming, fishing or as a source of drinking water.

The long history of polluted drinking water in Florida can be traced back to hundreds of years of development and agriculture. Randy Smith, the chief of Natural Systems and Restoration Bureau with the South Florida water management district, says that because of this development and agriculture, large amounts of phosphorus has seeped into both the ground and bodies of water.

“It changes the ecosystem and causes plants that are not native to thrive,” Smith said.

He also said the thriving of non-native plants causes native plants to be essentially strangled out.

“Natural vegetation is crucial for improving the water quality,” Smith said.

However, the problem with clean water does not end in Florida. According to a study done by the Environmental Integrity Project, there are only five states that have less than 20% of streams and rivers, and only three states that have less than 20% of their lakes and reservoirs impaired.

Due to concerns with drinking water nationwide, some companies have begun efforts to ensure that drinking water is clean.

In 1994, Richard Heinichen installed an in-home rainwater collection system that allowed him and his wife to collect rainwater and purify it for drinking.

Richard’s RainWater, a Texas based company, is the first company to have FDA approval to collect, bottle and distribute rainwater as a source of drinking water. Before bottling it, the company uses a zero-waste and chemical-free process to purify the water after it is collected.

Heinichen and his wife, Suzie, spent their first few years running the business as a hobby.

“It was more about collecting the rain than selling it,” said Taylor O’Neil, CEO of Richard’s RainWater.

O’Neil said that since the company has grown, they now strive to ensure there is clean drinking water nationwide.

“It took Richard four years to work with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to establish what we already know, that rainwater is a pure source of water,” O’Neil said.

O’Neil explained the first approval took the longest, since no one else had previously tried to distribute rainwater as a source of drinking water.

O’Neil further said that rainwater is such a clean source of water because it is untouched by chemicals, such as phosphorus, which pollute bodies of source water.

Because the collection of rainwater is not federally regulated, each state determines if the collection is legal or not. In many states, there are no regulations on rainwater, and some states even give incentives or rebates to residents who install rainwater collection devices in their homes.

According to Smith, the state of Florida does not offer rebates or incentives for residents who choose to collect rainwater.

By Madison Bakatsias

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