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WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE

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Have a drink of icy, cold water. Take a moment to savor this refreshing thirst quencher. Take another moment to appreciate the fact that this healthful, sparkling liquid is available, pure and simple, at your fingertips; all you have to do is turn on a tap. Not everyone in the world is so blessed.

And this is an extra-good time to count our blessings: National Drinking Water Week, an observance sponsored by the National Drinking Water Alliance, a coalition of 16 nonprofit groups, to remind people that water is a precious resource to be enjoyed and to be protected.This year marks the 20th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, a federal law that sets health and safety standards for public drinking water in the United States. Originally passed in 1974, several amendments were added in 1986 to make the act more stringent. And this year, Congress is again studying the law and possible revisions, to make sure it protects public health in the best possible ways.

Currently more than 200,000 individual public water systems are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. More than half of those serve people on a transient basis, such as certain campgrounds and gas stations that have their own water supplies.

The law gives the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to develop specific regulations to ensure the safety of our water supply. Currently, every public water system must test for more than 80 individual contaminants.

Water is an ongoing concern. Although it is constantly being cycled through nature's system of evaporation and condensation, water is a finite resource. We have the same amount of water today as we did when the Earth was formed.

This water not only must supply our household needs for drinking and cleaning, it is used for recreation, commerce and industry. Which is why the Drinking Water Alliance wants everyone to be a "blue thumb" water-user, one who helps take care of our water supply through responsible use. "With more than 200 million pounds of contaminants dumped, dropped or dripped into our water resources each year, every one of us needs to incorporate water-wise ways into our daily lives," says the alliance. "We need to make taking care of water second nature."

This week is a good opportunity to make a habit of some simple water-wise actions. It's also a good time to take a look some other news and views along the "water front":

- According to the Water Quality Association, about 22 million U.S. households seek an alternative to tap water for drinking. Sales of home drinking water systems and services grew by 16 percent in 1990 alone, to a $700 million industry. In addition, nearly one out of six households consumes bottled water instead of tap, making bottled drinking and beverage water a $2.2 billion industry.

- According to a survey by National Family Opinion Research, eight out of every 10 homebuyers feel that pure drinking water is a very important issue when buying a new home. Warranties for water pipes rank fourth on the list of preferred warranties, after warranties for roofs, furnaces and air conditioners.

- Before the turn of the century, water flowing through the pipes to kitchen taps in central Florida could be of the recycled kind. Regional officials there recently approved a series of innovative water-supply projects costing about $225 million over the next decade that will provide roughly 120 million new gallons of water each day for residents, businesses and farmers primarily by treating wastewater and returning it to the system.

If this one succeeds, look for similar projects in other areas.

- The Energy Policy Act of 1992 prohibits manufacture of toilets, as of January 1994, that use more than 1.6 gallons of water for a flush. Most toilets now use 3.5 or more gallons per flush.

Toilets are responsible for 35 percent of all residential water usage. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, nearly 4.8 billion gallons of water is flushed down American toilets each day. Replacing toilets with new low-consumption toilets would save almost 70 percent of the current U.S. water supply and about 5,500 gallons of water per person each year.