5 May 2015

What's your water quality?

The May activity for the 2015 Water Smarts Calendar (free download!) is to get a water quality report from your utility to find the levels of allowed and measured contaminants in water leaving the treatment plant.

Extra credit: compare the quality of water from your tap to the utility's results. (Some utilities will test your tap water for free, or you can pay for a test kit or lab test.)

Aside: I met a guy from Hach that says they have a portable, fast water quality tester. It's too expensive for most households, but $4,000 is not too much for someone who wants to go into the business of inspecting tap water. At $50 per test, it pays for itself in only 80 tests. People are willing to pay for accuracy and speed.

After you read the report, feel free to tell me what you understood, what was confusing, and anything else. Just go here.


GSS said...

Hi Dave – yes we can certainly make Consumer Confidence Reports easier to read. The basic problem is that there is standard language that must be included (standard health effects language) whenever a utility is describing what’s in the water. As far as availability goes, public water systems are requires to distribute copies of the CCR annually by 1 July. In some cases they are mailed directly to customers; they can be published in the newspapers; they can be delivered by e-mail; they can be posted on-line. Regardless of method, the water system is required to certify that this has been completed.

As far as testing your own water, we must remember that utilities must use certified methods and meet specific reporting limit criteria as promulgated by EPA, as well as having quality control and trip blank samples. That leads to some apples-apples questions associated with the data and can, in some cases, result in issues where the results are not comparable at all. For instance I’ve seen customers take a pool or aquarium test kit, perform their own analysis and make a big fuss on social media about how their utility is trying to poison them. Take for example nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N) which is a regulated contaminant under the SDWA and water systems are required to remain below 10 mg/L. Utility lab tests measure nitrate-nitrogen (NO3-N), but off-the shelf test kits typically measure NO3 itself. While it is relatively straightforward to convert (nitrogen has a molecular weight of 14.007, oxygen 15.999, and NO3 62.004, meaning that 10 mg/L NO3-N is equivalent to approximately 44 mg/L NO3) it can be difficult to explain to the layperson.

Having said that, opportunities like this to open the dialogue with customers about quality and measurement and regulation serve to improve the transparency of utilities.

GSS said...

I forgot to add a link to the NIW quality standard report


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