In watering plants, the process of capillarity is what allows stems to soak up water and make the flower grow strong and tall. If a plant is not watered, its cells, and ultimately entire body, will shrivel up and die. Amazingly, peoples’ bodies react the same way to water or lack thereof. Besides oxygen, water is the most essential element to sustaining human life. Water is crucial to the health and functionality of our cells and organs. In fact, two-thirds of your body is made up of water – which plays a major role in keeping you cool by regulating your body’s temperature through perspiration. Despite the blazing heat, our lives do not stop or slow down during the hot months of the summer. Coincidentally, the summer is a time in which everyone tries to be in better shape – (thanks, bikini season).

If you are looking for the healthiest body this summer, you must comply with the rules and regulations of water – think of water as your new trainer. While dieting and working out, your body will initially shed its water weight, which most people are eager to lose because they believe it is merely excess water. This is especially true of cardio workouts that mainly purge the body of water weight rather than tone muscle as a whole. However, water weight is strategically dispersed throughout your organs, bones, and blood to ensure your body’s full functionality. This distribution of water is significant in regulating your metabolism, which is essential to getting your body into shape.

If your body does not retain enough water, the consequences are detrimental to your everyday health; dehydration can affect your daytime fatigue, focus, and memory. Usually, people misinterpret dehydration signs for hunger pains. Next time you feel hungry, drink 8 ounces of water and wait twenty minutes, as it is most likely your body communicating its thirst. By staying hydrated, your body will have more energy, absorb more nutrients, and reduce the risks of diseases and cancers (specifically colon, bladder, and breast cancer).

Washington, D.C. is known to be quite hot and humid during the summer, which is why clean drinking water is essential to residents of the district. While many households use additional filters to ensure the safety of their tap water, D.C. tap water is in fact very clean. D.C.’s tap water, which comes from the Potomac River, is carefully filtered and monitored by the Washington Aqueduct and DC Water. To gain better knowledge on the importance of water quality, I interviewed Alexander Chaitoff, the founder and President of Pure Water Access Project. Alex founded his nonprofit on the importance of clean water to public health and hopes to improve access to clean drinking water around the world. Seeing as Alex has extensive knowledge about the topic on hand, I asked him about the importance of hydration.

Tell us about the Pure Water Access Project?

The Pure Water Access Project, Inc. is a nonprofit organization that aims to contribute towards solutions to the Clean Water Crisis by helping people abroad access clean water while also studying the social and cultural barriers to the sustainable use of clean water solutions. In doing so, we hope that we might help some individuals directly, but through the dissemination of research and the subsequent creation of more culturally appropriate solutions, we hope to start the ripple that has the ability to affect much greater numbers of people.

In the United States, we bring that same “every ripple starts with a single drop” mentality through the education and outreach programs we are beginning. These programs aim to use the Clean Water Crisis as a case study to help high school and college students develop the critical thinking and management skills necessary to become innovators in public service. We understand that our group can do good, but if we can impart our passion and some of the lessons we’ve learned on others, the positive impact can be so much greater.

What inspired you to start your nonprofit? Was there a pivotal moment in which you realized you had to do something to help people access clean water?

Friends and professors at The Ohio State University helped enlighten me about the seriousness of the Clean Water Crisis. However, I do not believe in reinventing the wheel, so only after realizing that social and cultural barriers to clean water delivery were an underappreciated issue within the Clean Water Crisis was I inspired to act with my fellow co-founders. Needless deaths caused by perfectly filterable waterborne pathogens, economic inefficiency caused by water technologies being delivered but not utilized properly, and the injustice that is embodied in the demographics of the people most affected by these issues light a fire within me.

What do you aspire PWAP’s global impact to be?

I hope that PWAP and organizations like it are one day no longer necessary. Until then, I hope that we raise awareness about the importance of culturally appropriate public health solutions while also making an impact on the ground.

If you could inform the public on just one fact about water/what you believe is the most important thing to know about water, what would you tell them?

I would want people to realize that water quality is much more than scientific measures of turbidity or toxin levels. The quality of water one has is affected by everything from income level to educational attainment, and thus disparities found in different people’s water quality is as much a social issue as a scientific one.

What do you find to be the biggest pollutant of water? How can people educate and protect themselves against it?

A lot of people would probably think to chemicals like lead (or for the conspiracy theorists, possibly fluoride). That’s definitely a fair assessment, and that is probably one of the bigger problems.

However, and this may be the microbiology major in me speaking, one of the lesser talked about and more interesting issues is antibiotics and pharmaceuticals that get washed down the drain. For example, antibiotic hand soaps (with triclosan) may actually do more damage than good when viewed from this frame of reference. That is because pathogen exposure to the antibiotic can lead to triclosan-tolerant strains. Even if this is not happening in the water (because triclosan doesn’t get too high enough concentrations, etc), the chemical is not initially filtered during water treatment steps, so at the very least this may affect the normal microbes that are in the water. Some evidence even suggests that these types of chemicals may affect wildlife in the water we eventually drink.

Just being aware that even things like soap that get sent down the drain can impact water and wildlife is important, and following water and wildlife groups on social media can help people be more aware of their impact on water systems and the subsequent impact the systems have on them.

How can people make sure that they are staying hydrated with safe water this summer?

It can be difficult in the heat, but the usual advice of staying away from drinks like alcohol and sodas that can dehydrate and ensuring that individuals drink plenty of plain, pure water is still the best advice. Another important thing to remember is that nobody should wait until they are thirsty to drink water – at that point, the body is already saying that it is dehydrated.

It seems that more and more people are using BRITA (or BRITA types) of water filters in their home. Do you think they are as effective as people perceive them to be?

A lot of water filters just contain carbon, which is known to help capture toxins that would otherwise stay in the water. Specifically, BRITA filters have been shown capable of lowering lead levels in water by up to 80%, which would indicate they probably are as effective as people perceive them to be. Thus, the real question might not be whether the filters work, but rather if they are necessary for the US where a lot of people’s water goes through multiple sophisticated treatment steps.

What do you think about DC water quality?

I think on the whole it’s good. Each year DC Water puts out a report that includes tips, diagrams of how the water treatment process works, and data concerning contaminants found in the water. While in the early 2000s there was a lot of concern over high levels of lead in the water, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of tests conducted, from those searching for fecal coliforms to those measuring lead in the supply, come back far below the EPA action level.

Do you think the Potomac is a reliable source of water for DC?

While I’m not an expert on the sustainability of natural water sources, I would say it seems reliable at this time. Of course there are concerns; for example, surface water is susceptible to picking up harmful runoff from surrounding areas, which could, in theory, enter the water system if not filtered. However, I think a big reason why the Potomac is a reliable source is because of the oversight the water source is given. We aren’t in the dark ages; people recognize how important water is, and, at least in the US, this means we often constantly monitor toxins and water levels. For example, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) puts out numerous reports concerning the water supply reliability, and as recently as June 4, 2013, put out a comprehensive report on water supply outlook. For reference (and completely disregarding the complexity of the findings), that report suggested that “at present, there is sufficient flow in the Potomac River to meet Washington metropolitan area’s water demands without augmentation from upstream reservoirs.”

Seeing as DC varies greatly between quite affluent neighborhoods to poverty-stricken neighborhoods, do you believe the same quality of water is reaching all neighborhoods?

Certain contaminants, including lead, are often due to corrosion of household plumbing systems. Thus, it stands to reason that individuals with fewer resources would be less able to prevent or fix such system decay and might have poorer water quality. Also, it is known that poverty-stricken neighborhoods may generally face higher levels of pollution than do affluent neighborhoods, so it also stands to reason that this phenomenon could extend to water quality. Finally, some studies (not done in Washington DC) have shown some differences in drinking water quality based upon race/income within cities.