Problems We Found With Chesapeake Drinking Water


Emma Schultz, M.S.  |  Scientific Contributor

Updated June  18, 2021 to include updated data

For our Chesapeake water quality report, we aggregated water quality test data from the City of Chesapeake Department of Public Utilities, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as well as from samples that we collect and analyze. We cross reference these data with toxicity studies in the scientific and medical literature, and look at upcoming regulatory changes. The water filters that we sell in Chesapeake are optimized with these issues in mind.

Source Of Chesapeake Drinking Water

The city of Chesapeake’s drinking water is of mixed-source origin and comes from several locations. Chesapeake’s Northwest River Water Treatment Plant treats surface water from the Northwest River, as well as brackish groundwater from four wells. The Lake Gaston Water Treatment Plant treats raw water purchased from the city of Norfolk, and plans to treat surface water from Lake Gaston in the future. Treated water is purchased for some portions of Chesapeake from Norfolk and Portsmouth. Additional groundwater comes from the Western Branch wells, including Wells #1 and #3, and the Aquifer Storage and Recovery Well. Lastly, the private company Aqua Virginia, Inc. serves approximately 523 customers in the Norfolk Highlands neighborhood of Chesapeake.

Lead In Chesapeake Drinking Water

Lead enters into the city of Chesapeake's tap water through old lead service pipes and lead-containing plumbing. When corrosion control measures fail (such as seen in Flint, Michigan), lead leaches into drinking water and can reach hazardous levels. Recent analysis for lead in Chesapeake's water found 90th percentile concentrations of <3 parts per billion. These are not violations, since the 90th percentile concentrations are the levels used to compare with the EPA standard (with an Action Level of 15 ppb), but both the EPA and CDC recognize that there is no such thing as a safe level of lead. In addition, federal regulations cannot take into account levels measured at an individual tap.

Chromium 6 In Chesapeake Drinking Water

Chromium 6 is a highly toxic metal that, while monitored, is not regulated by the EPA. Chesapeake tap water quality from the two water treatment plants recently topped out at 90 parts per trillion for chromium 6; values ranged as high as 60 ppt for South Norfolk, and 380 ppt for those in the Western Branch area. These levels are 4.5, 3, and 19 times higher, respectively, than the concentration determined to have a negligible impact on cancer risk.

Disinfection Byproducts (DBPs) In Chesapeake Drinking Water

DBPs are a category of emerging contaminants that form when chlorine-based disinfectants react with naturally-occurring organic matter. While these chemicals are not well regulated, the EPA has stated they have an association with an increased risk of bladder cancer, as well as kidney, liver, and central nervous system problems. DBPs in Chesapeake’s tap water had highest locational running annual averages of 63 ppb for their treatment plants (with upper detected levels of 109 ppb). 

Use Of Chloramine In Chesapeake Tap Water

While most cities use chlorine as their primary disinfectant, the city of Chesapeake's water (from all sources) is disinfected with chloramine, produced by mixing chlorine and ammonia. Chloramine is primarily responsible for what customers report as the “bad taste” of tap water, and unlike chlorine this taste will not fade if water is left in the fridge overnight. Most one-size-fits-all water filters use filtration media that doesn’t adequately remove chloramine, but the filters that Hydroviv builds for Chesapeake use special filtration media that is purpose-built to remove chloramine as well.

In 2016, the running annual average for chloramines was 3.24 ppm for water from the two treatment plants, and the upper detected range was 4.26 ppm, which is over the Maximum Residual Disinfectant Level of 4.0 ppm. For Norfolk water, the running annual average was 2.79 ppm (upper range of 4.4 ppm), and for Portsmouth water, the running annual average was 2.08 ppm (upper range of 4.0 ppm). It is important to note that while these upper ranges are above the MRDL, this is not a violation, as it is the running annual average values that are compared to the MRDL.

Still Have Questions About Chesapeake’s Tap Water?

Hydroviv is a water filtration company that uses water quality data to optimize water filters for each city’s water. The chemicals that we list above are what we consider to be “points of emphasis” so we can build the best water filter for Chesapeake tap water, but all of our water filters provide broad protection against other contaminants commonly found in drinking water (e.g. VOCs, heavy metals [including lead], pharmaceuticals, solvents, pesticides, mercury).

If you’re interested in learning more about water filters that have been optimized for Chesapeake tap water, feel free to visit, reach out by email ( or through our live chat. We also frequently post water-related news on Twitter or Facebook.

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