7 Jan 2010

Innovation on water quality

I've talked in the past about the need for a simple, cheap water quality tester for consumers. (The kits on the market now are neither user-friendly nor "cheap.")

It occurred to me that the consumer market often follows the business market, where early adopters are willing to pay more and their custom drives innovation.

It also occurred to me that businesses (water agencies) need to monitor water quality. Although they already do, their monitoring (as far as I know) takes place at the treatment plant, and at infrequent intervals.

It seems like they would want to have real-time water quality monitoring at important points in their distribution system. To make that goal a reality, they will need fairly cheap monitors that test for many things.

If such a market develops, it would benefit water customers in the short run. In the long run, it would promote the consumer technology that I'd like to see.

Bottom Line: We need better water quality information, and there's a market -- and development channel -- for it.


  1. WaterSourceWaterBank7 Jan 2010, 22:56:00

    Assuming I know how to keep the world from throwing the water bottles away...

    Why spend such enormous sums on purifying water for domestic consumption ?

    Note: I am firmly against any water contamination ... including PRIONS !

  2. I saw a handy-dandy little water-monitor device used by folks on the Merced River. I'll try to get information on it for you.

  3. Regarding frequency of water agency testing...


    Law specifies testing intervals for coliform (at the treatment plant) anywhere from 1/month to 120/week (not quite real time but close) depending on the size of the system, type of treatment, and the potential for contamination of the source water. There are many anlysers in the treatment process that are real time measuring various indicators, like turbidity, chlorine residual, etc.

    Testing out in the distribution system also depends on the system size and the risk factors of the constituant of concern but can be as much as 30/week and at multiple sites.

    Cheap and testing for one thing I've seen. Cheap and testing for many things is elusive, but, as you note, desireable.

  4. There are a bunch of inexpensive hand held devices for measuring salinity, pH, and the like. When you have to start searching for plasmids, bacteria, etc, I think it takes a lot more training for the user and some pretty sophisticated machinery. As with aircraft navigation aids, there is not much of a market for "good enough" equipment of this type. I believe that testing for metals, OPs, and so forth in levels not obvious--like a pile of dead animals around a water hole--requires a mass spectrometer. It would sure be neat if Heathkit (remember them, anybody?) had a build-your-own kit for making one...

  5. Mister Kurtz - you are on the right track. Water utilities have to do lots of monitoring and would love to do it cheaply, but they are also driven by regulations that require analyzing at ever lower detection limits, which requires highly sophisticated equipment and training. To analyze for some basic parameters like pH, TDS, a few common anions - simple, wet chemistry test kits can do the job just fine but you won't get the same degree of accuracy as a trained chemist. That's not to say that cheap and easy will never be possible. It's just not happening anytime soon.

  6. For a customer, what it is to test? Salinity? Conductivity? Turbidity?
    And say he does not like the water, what is going to do? Call the water police?

  7. For an agricultural customer, pH and salinity are important. In particular, salts like boron, which are tolerable if unpalatable in drinking water, are both necessary yet toxic (in higher concentrations) to many plants. For a residential customer, if you are served by a utility you need the confidence that your utility is monitoring water quality; you are entitled to see their reports. If you have a well (like me) you need to sample water quarterly and submit the sample to a testing lab for coliform and other bad critters. For about a grand you can also have a sample tested for various chemicals. Once a decade should be sufficient for that, unless you have reason for fear. If you are hiking in the rain forest, use a filter.

  8. We seem to have the tester that you want. We have had it for years. It would test sensitively, cheaply, for many things, and with little training.

    Is there a market?

    No one has called to suggest that such a market exists nor have I seen much press about such a market.

  9. @J -- coliform, to start. And, yes, which police would arrest the government (public agency)?

    @Eric -- effective AND cheap.

  10. effective AND cheap!

    We don't have a tricorder that detects all things, costs $0.37, and runs on free energy from dark matter.

    We do have effective and cheap compared to existing methods, routinely 90% cheaper and 90% faster.


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