Wednesday, May 10, 2023

National Drinking Water Week

This week is National Drinking Water Week. Since 1988 the American Water Works Association and its members have used Drinking Water Week as an opportunity for both water professionals and the communities they serve to recognize the vital role water plays in our daily lives.

At this point in time the United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world, but our drinking water is facing new challenges. Our water treatment and delivery systems are aging and the demand for water continues to grow with populations in arid and urban areas. In the arid west reclaimed or recycled water, is being used to recharge groundwater. In other places waste treatment plants discharge to rivers that supply drinking water systems. Here in Northern Virginia recycled water from UOSA is released to the Occoquan. Water recycling and reuse while increasing supply is introducing a variety of contaminants into our drinking water that water treatment systems and water regulations may not fully address. 

In studies over the last decade the U.S. Geological Survey found that as the amount of urban and agricultural lands increased within the water shed, the numbers of contaminants in the rivers also increased. Rivers receiving municipal and industrial discharge, as well as discharges from other point and non-point sources from stormwater runoff are impacted by man-made organic contaminants, most of which are do not have regulatory limits.  Trace amounts of pathogens, pharmaceutical chemicals and other chemicals are able to pass through the current standard treatment systems. Drinking water standards were developed for natural groundwater and surface water and may not be adequate to protect us from contaminants in reclaimed water. We are just developing the technology to test for some of these substances at the trace levels in which they are found.

The U.S.EPA sets legal limits for over 90 contaminants in drinking water. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) allows states to set their own drinking water standards as long as the standards meet or exceed the EPA minimum. Water utilities face the increasing challenge of keeping pace with emerging contaminants and issues such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), inland salinization, lead and copper in drinking water. Water systems need to monitor and treat water to meet the current regulatory requirements of the SDWA. In the future additional strategies and treatment will be needed to meet the challenges of these emerging contaminants.

I believe that Fairfax Water and our other regional water utilities will be able to meet the challenges facing them, but not all water systems have the resources to meet the challenges ahead. In more rural communities and shrinking urban areas that have a small rate-payer base it is a challenge to have the equipment and staff to meet the requirements of the SDWA and to maintain aging systems.

Fairfax Water is observing Drinking Water Week by inviting the public to learn about how truly vital and valuable clean, safe water is in daily life and its role in protecting public health and the environment now and in the future. Take the time during this Drinking Water Week to understand some of what it takes to consistently deliver clean and safe drinking water 24/7.

"Whether installing new water mains, checking water meters, collecting water samples, responding to your inquiries, or analyzing the water quality, our staff is dedicated all day, every day" said Fairfax Water General Manager Jamie Hedges. "Our small but exceptional workforce is proud to provide water to their friends, family, and neighbors and truly sees their work as a vocation of distinction."

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