How to Read Your Water Quality Report: Helpful Tips and Expert Advice

Today, many people are turning away from bottled water and making the move to tap water and other alternative modes. If you’ve already made the switch, it’s important to know what’s in your tap water.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires most community water systems to notify the public once any regulated contaminants are detected and any breaches of water quality standards have occurred. This information is usually included in your annual water quality report.

A water quality report, also known as a consumer confidence report, provides information about your local drinking water quality. Essentially, it highlights what contaminants, if any, are present in your drinking water and how they may affect your health. It also includes a list of all the regulated pollutants that were detected in your water over the prior calendar year.

Although water quality reports are intended to help people make informed decisions about their drinking water, these reports can be confusing and full of complex words and expressions that are often difficult to understand.

In this guide, we will help you understand your water quality report, so you won’t go nuts trying to interpret it by yourself.

But What If I Don’t Get a Water Quality Report?

According to the EPA, if you don’t pay your own water bill, you won’t receive a report. Basically, a water quality report is not available for persons who live in apartments, condos, or rental properties, or those who get their water from private ground wells. However, if you are a tenant then you can contact your building manager or search online to see if your Community Water System (CWS) published its water quality report. You can always do a quick google search of your city + annual water quality report and go from there.

Understanding Your Water Quality Report

Summary of Water Source and Treatment Efforts

In general, every water quality report must contain information such as:

  • The sources of the drinking water, whether a lake, river, well, groundwater aquifer, or some other water sources;
  • What contaminants the municipality tests for, their treatment capacity and the standards they uphold to ensure safe and reliable water supply to your home;
  • EPA regulations and a list of all the regulated contaminants and their levels;
  • Potential health effects of any pollutant detect at a level that violates EPA’s health standards, and what you can do to prevent water-related illnesses;
  • Contact details for the water system and EPA’s Safe Water Drinking Hotline;
  • And other vital information.

Detailed Breakdown of the Contaminants Detected

Another important section of the report also is the chart breakdown of all the contaminants detected in the public water supply at the time of testing. You may also come across several codes and abbreviations that might seem technical at first. Don’t be intimated! Get familiar with the information so you can better understand what’s in your water.

Here are some of the key terms you may discover:

  • Contaminant name: The name of the substance being examined, such as sodium, fluoride, copper, lead, etc.
  • MCLG (Maximum Contaminant Level Goal): The lowest level of a particular contaminant allowed in drinking water for which there is no known or expected risk to your health. This is basically a safety boundary for each contaminated detected.
  • MCL (Maximum Contaminant Level): The highest level of a contaminant the EPA allows in your drinking water.
  • MRDL (Maximum Residual Disinfectant Level): The highest level of a disinfectant allowed in your tap water. When used in measured amounts, disinfectants can help control germs and microbes in the water.
  • Treatment Technique (TT): A required process that is undertaken to reduce the level of a contaminant in your drinking water.
  • Your Water: The maximum level of that contaminant found in your water during sampling.
  • Range detected: The levels – high and low – at which contaminants were detected in your drinking water.
  • Violation: Shows if a contaminant is present in your drinking water above the level allowed by the EPA. 

The EPA has established the MCL as a protective guideline to safeguard the health of the consumers. However, many water treatment facilities try to set the MCLs within the parameters but very close to the MCLG. If the MCL goes beyond the contaminant’s MCLG, it could lead to possible side effects. If this happens, your municipality is obligated to disclose this as a violation in your water report.

What More Can I Do to Make My Drinking Water Safer?

Water treatment facilities aim to make your water safe to drink. However, if you still have doubts about the quality of your water, you can purchase a water testing kit and check for yourself or you can have it professionally tested.

In reality, some dangerous contaminants may still be present in your drinking water when it reaches your home. These contaminants can negatively affect the taste and smell of your drinking water and can be toxic to your health. Not only that. Certain contaminants can leave stains and scum in your pipes and on your fixtures and can damage your appliances over time.

Now, these situations are often difficult to deal with, especially if you attempt to apply manual labor. If you want safer and better-tasting water flowing through your pipes, you can install a whole house water filtration system to block out contaminants before they enter your home.

Water softeners also work to remove high concentrations of calcium and magnesium that make your water “hard.” Soft water prolongs the life of your appliances, makes your hair and skin softer and healthier and makes your dishes and laundry look and feel cleaner than ever before.


A water quality report can reveal important information about the quality of your drinking water. That’s why it’s crucial that you know how to interpret what it’s telling you. If the report leaves you feeling doubtful about your water quality, you can take the necessary steps above to make your water safer for you and your family.