What's in Your City Water Supply? Part One

by Dan M Published 7.30.2015

City water supplies generally come from surface water sources.  Surface water sources can be lakes, rivers, ponds, reservoirs and virtually any large collection of water.  Now, think about your local lake for a minute. Is the water clear; can you see the bottom of the lake on a sunny day? If the lake is clear does that mean the water is free of contaminants and safe to drink?  What if the water is cloudy and dirty?  What is the cause of cloudiness and could it be harmful to me?  I bet you have not really thought about how your city deals with removing contaminants from the water supply.  So, let’s take a look at how cities treat water.

Most water treatment facilities utilize the same basic treatment operations, so I am going to focus on one city in particular, Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland gets its water from Lake Erie, one of the best fishing lakes of the great lakes. Water is drawn in through large screens miles off shore to ensure that it starts out as clean as possible.  (Water drawn near the shore has a high potential to be more concentrated with surface run-off and pollution.) The screens help remove large organic matter such as fish, plants and garbage, to name a few.  The water is then drawn to a rapid mix where chemicals are added for the first phase of treatment.  These chemicals are comprised of a disinfectant, a chemical for taste and odor and a coagulant.  For Cleveland city water these three chemicals are chlorine, activated carbon and alum.  Alum is a coagulant used to bind small particles into large clumps that can be filtered out or that will settle out of the water.  The settling out process is called sedimentation. The water continues to be filtered through large-scale sand and coal filters which will remove smaller organic particles that did not settle to the bottom of the tank during the sedimentation process.  Finally, after the water travels through sand and coal filters, it is again treated with more chemicals.  Cleveland water has chlorine added for disinfection, fluoride for dental hygiene (It is a law in the state of Ohio that fluoride be added to all city water supplies.) and orthophosphate to help reduce the leaching of lead from household pipes.  The water is then deemed good for distribution. 

That is a very simple explanation of how a city water treatment plant treats water.  But even though the water has been disinfected and filtered, I go back to my original questions. Is the water free of contaminants or could it still be harmful to me? It is important to note that city water treatment facilities are closely regulated and undergo strict inspections.  Water that is distributed from the facility is within a healthy range for consumption for the majority of the population that utilizes the water and the general public is notified about any possible contamination from a regulated substance.  However, it is not regulated to protect your home.  Additionally, most city water is not treated to remove taste and odor, hardness, iron, lead, pharmaceuticals and many other natural and man-made substances. 

In my next blog, we’ll take a look at what could be left in the water (bacteria, lead, iron, hardness minerals?) after it has gone through the city’s water treatment process and what you can do about it.


Garret A. Morgan Water Treatment Plant in Cleveland, Ohio.

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Drink Local. Drink Tap. Continues Their Mission to Bring Safe Drinking Water to Uganda

by Guest Bloggers Published 9.19.2014

Erin Huber is the founder and executive director of Drink Local. Drink Tap., Inc.™ a non-profit organization focused on creatively reconnecting people to local water. She inspires people to become better stewards of water through education and awareness in the west and she designs and implements sustainable water projects in the east (Africa). Huber’s passion for safe drinking water is supported by more than a decade of volunteer work and awards, a B.S. of Environmental Science and an M.S. of Urban Studies from Cleveland State University, emphasizing sustainability policy and new economics.

When I last wrote, Drink Local. Drink Tap. had been planning to bring three sustainable water projects to children in Uganda. Well, we did that, and then some. A gravity-fed tap system was installed as Phase III to our St. Bonaventure school borehole project, we built our first gravity-fed irrigation system for Family Spirit AIDS Orphanage and Child Center’s farm, and we installed a borehole project at Family Spirit Primary School where 267 orphaned children live, attend school and try to battle sickness such as AIDS, malnutrition, and previously, illnesses from dirty water.

There are some extremely important points to make about these special projects. Kids will have a sustainable food supply (healthy and with variety) for the first time at Family Spirit AIDS Orphanage and will also learn job skills as many of them have to enter the "real world" after 7th grade or age 13. Already, they have vegetables growing and their health has improved.

cabbage field and worker

The borehole at their school has allowed the children to stay safer not looking for "dirty" water, stay healthier by not drinking dirty water and get a better education because they are in school and not spending precious daylight hours carrying heavy containers of water from a nearby swamp or spring. Something else really special? Most of students at St. Bonaventure, and the villagers in Mulajji, have now seen running tap water for the first time in their lives. The 500-700 kids there no longer have to fill dirty containers with water, no longer have to pump water, and even no longer have to carry it one single foot when they need a drink, to wash their hands or to bathe. With your generous support, we were also able to use a few hundred dollars to rehabilitate two water tanks that were completely infested with parasitic worms and sludge where children were drinking (see photo below). We also purchased cups for all 700 students and staff at one school so everyone can stay hydrated all day and get the most out of class each day.

dirty borehole being cleaned

This year has been life changing, and life saving. One of these schools lost two children just months before we came - there is an emergency now, children are dying and we have proved that we can do something to make life possible there. We can all do something to help children and vulnerable people live more healthy, happy and dignified lives.

Here’s what’s next!

We are going back to Uganda in the summer of 2014 to begin planning projects with seven new schools, to follow up on past projects and to continue building our network of support. Ten schools were interviewed in January 2014 and only seven were chosen to continue to move forward with us in planning sustainable and safe water projects. After combing the south and western parts of the country, we found some children walking four miles, roundtrip at times, to collect water from swamps, crowded and polluted public water sources and 50-100% of the children at these schools have worms (bilharzia) because even cattle share their water source. This has to change if we want our world to change.

Read more about our current projects here.

Our Wavemaker Program students, volunteers, churches and businesses are all making their drops in the bucket. What’s even more special? Kinetico has given DLDT an amazing jumpstart and committed to help build one full project this year with their Gold Level support!

It can be overwhelming to think about all of the pollution in the world, the one billion people without access to safe drinking water or the fact that more people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet. But, if we work together to make positive change, we can truly impact those unimaginable statistics- we’ve proved it and will continue to work hard, with you, to save our water and save lives.

Ways to get involved:

We are able to offer our Wavemaker Program to schools. Send us an email at info@drinklocaldrinktap.org if you’d like us to work with your school or youth group.

Additionally, you can help by hosting a fundraiser or screening our documentary, Making Waves from Cleveland to Uganda. You can also donate directly. For information on these fundraising and outreach programs visit the Drink Local. Drink Tap. website.

women laughing with water

Standards for Bottled Water vs. Standards for Tap Water

by Ed R Published 2.13.2014

“The elephant in the room” is probably one of the most overused phrases in the last several years. It is basically meant to call attention to an impending situation which we know is looming but choose to ignore in the hope that it goes away. A current example of this elephant is the overall health of our drinking water. A recently published report by the DWRF (Drinking Water Research Foundation) is a must read. Entitled “Microbial Health Risks of Regulated Drinking Waters in the United States”, this report provides a comparative assessment of health risks associated with drinking tap water vs. drinking bottled water. It was authored by Dr. Stephen Edberg of Yale University who is an internationally recognized expert in the field of public health especially as it pertains to water and water treatment. (I had the opportunity to meet him in 2002 at the World Health Organization symposium on HPC Bacteria in Drinking Water in Geneva, but that’s another story.) The purpose of Dr. Edberg’s report is to help educate the public with regard to the risk of contracting a waterborne illness from a public water supply by contrasting it to bottled water. It does so by focusing on the differences in the following areas: regulations, standards, monitoring, advisories and distribution. For those of you that are not going to read the report (although I urge you to, it’s actually a pretty quick read), here is the “CliffsNotes” version with some commentary at the end.

Read the full report

Regulations: Both public drinking water and bottled water are heavily regulated. Public drinking water is regulated by the EPA under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Bottled water is regulated by the FDA under The Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) as it is considered a food product.

Standards: “Federal law requires that FDA’s regulations for bottled water must be at least as protective of public health as EPA standards for tap water.” Where these two differ is in microbial contaminants. EPA currently has no standards for total coliform or E. coli in source waters, only in finished water. In contrast, if a bottler is drawing water from a source other than a public water supply then both the source water and the finished water are subject to the standards.

Monitoring: It is in this section that the author shows the greatest discrepancy of the two. On a gallon for gallon basis the report shows that bottlers are required to test on a far greater frequency than public suppliers.

Advisories: What happens when the water fails to meet either EPA or FDA Microbiological Standards? Under the SDWA this typically involves issuance of a “Boil Alert”. Two things trigger a boil alert, 1.) Detection of E. coli or any other pathogenic organism, 2.) Loss of system pressure, such as in the case of a water main break. Under the FDA Standards, contaminated water is prohibited from entering the food supply, and is subject to a recall. Public notification in both cases is required.

Distribution: Bottled water is processed, monitored, packaged under sanitary conditions, held and transported with no further outside influence of potential contamination. Tap water is processed, monitored, disinfected and delivered to consumers through a system of underground piping. (You should start to see the elephant now.)

Throughout this report the author purposely calls attention to the differences in the two most common forms of water used for human consumption, with the goal of pointing out to the reader where the source of the problem lies…the distribution system elephant. It’s not at the water treatment plant that we have a problem. The personnel there do a fantastic job of taking water from all kinds of sources and qualities to provide us with a clean, abundant and safe supply. Many of us absolutely take it for granted. When we turn on the tap we expect clear, cold, clean water and we expect it now. The report addresses some of the causal factors for the loss of quality as it pertains to the distribution system, things like source protection, cross connection, backflow prevention, and leaks. Let’s face it; some of the pipes have been in the ground for a hundred years. All of this is considered infrastructure. Numerous reports have identified the need to repair and replace our aging Infrastructure. So why are we ignoring it? There are only 300-500 billion reasons. You guessed it, dollars. But, there may be an alternative solution, and mark my words, you will be hearing more about it, it’s the final barrier concept. Take some time to read the report; it’s not too long or too technical.

Contact Ed R.

Is drinking water your home's only water safety concern?

by Keith B Published 10.24.2013

As water treatment professionals, most of our time is spent thinking about improving the quality of either drinking water or working water. (Working water is water used for cleaning, washing clothes, cars, dishes etc.) For drinking water, we often focus on aesthetics and health concerns, and for working water we typically just focus on the aesthetics. However, there is a third category when considering water used for bathing, swimming or playing where aesthetics and some unique health effects are of concern.

Recently several articles have been written, including one by Matthew Hamilton on latimes.com, about the “Brain Eating Amoeba” found in the drinking water supply of a parish in Louisiana. The amoeba is said to cause a fatal brain infection called Primary Amoebic Meningoencephalitis (PAM) by being introduced into the sinus through the nose. Infections created by this amoeba are quite rare with CBS Houston reporting a total of 32 cases in the US from 2001 to 2010. Of concern is an amoeba called Naegleria fowleri, which is found quite frequently in warm, relatively stagnant waters throughout the southern United States. Louisiana state health officials report that drinking the water containing the amoeba does not cause illness, since stomach acid kills it. Most previous infections have been contracted by people swimming in these warm waters, getting water in their nose in the process. Though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that Naegleria fowleri is commonly found around the world in warm fresh water, the number of reported cases is surprisingly low.

Photo of water splashing on a child's hands

Tragically, these most recent articles recount the death of a 4 year old boy from this disease, which he contracted after playing on a “Slip 'n' Slide” fed with municipally-supplied water in that parish. Jonathan Yoder, an epidemiologist with the CDC, stated that this was the first time that Naegleria fowerli has been found in a treated water supply in the US. CBS Houston and several other news agencies are raising the question if Hurricane Katrina might be the cause of the contamination. Their thought process is that after Katrina, so many people left the parish that the water lay dormant in the supply pipes for longer periods than it had before the hurricane, when the system was serving more people. As a result, the chlorine residual may have dissipated, allowing the organisms to grow. Presently, the parish is increasing chlorine content and flushing the water lines, which has some residents complaining about the taste.

Once again, we find ourselves faced with questions about the quality of our tap water—not because of problems at the central treatment plant, but possibly because of conditions outside of its control. In this case, buying bottled water is of little help since taking a shower, bath or playing in the water would be the cause of infection. As a home owner, options for treatment might include a point of entry (POE) solution like ultraviolet (UV) treatment or whole house water filtration, sized properly by an authorized source. Or, if your municipality has increased chlorine content in your water, you could use a point of use (POU) treatment system to remove the taste of chlorine from your drinking water.

Even if you don’t live in a warm climate like Louisiana’s, it never hurts to get your water checked out. I have been in the water treatment industry for a long time, and I have seen how contaminants in your water can cause all kinds of problems for your family and home. As I wrote in an earlier post, I find that it’s best to be proactive and informed about my home’s water quality, just in case.

Contact Keith B.

Water Issues' Effect on Conflict and Civil Unrest

by Keith B Published 8.26.2013

In the May 18th Sunday Review of The New York Times, Thomas Friedman wrote a very thought provoking article entitled “Without Water, Revolution.” It covers what is going on today in Syria and how water issues play a big role in the civil unrest that plagues that country today. He describes how the drought that hit the country from 2006 to 2011 significantly changed the distribution of the population, forcing small, independent, proud farmers to abandon their rural lands and move to cities to try and eke out an existence; and how many of the few jobs that did exist were given to favorites of the government. What I found interesting was that when previously I had thought about the unrest in Syria, I did not think about water, and also that one of the main issues some of the people had with the existing government was that they hadn't done enough in reaction to the drought.

Illustration of a modern Syrian man and a Dust Bowl era American man, both drinking water

Further research on this topic found the article recently published in Science Magazine by Hsiang, Burke and Miguel entitled “Quantifying the Influence of Climate on Human Conflict.” While most of this article (especially those parts relating to statistics) flew clearly over my head, it was easy to see that this subject has been studied in depth, and that with the many associated variables, coming up with a direct cause and effect is a challenge. Variables such as economic conditions, normal average temperature of a region, and interrelations between temperature and rainfall levels can all affect the data. There are even data presented linking high rainfall levels with unrest such as Hindu-Muslim riots. Hsiang et al state in their conclusions that “We do not conclude that climate is the sole—or even primary—driving force in conflict, but we do find that when large climate variations occur, they can have substantial effects on the incidence of conflict across a variety of contexts.”

In her review of this article, Rebecca Morelle of BBC News states “They estimate that a 2°C (3.6°F) rise in global temperature could see personal crimes increase by about 15%, and group conflicts rise by more than 50% in some regions.” She also found some opposing views where Dr. Halvard Buhaug, from the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway finds that civil war in Africa was linked not to climate-related issues, but to other factors such as high infant mortality, proximity to international borders and high local population density. I might suggest that water quality could also play a role in the infant mortality issue and that the population density might be a product of previous drought conditions.

Refocusing from these studies covering centuries of change and human history to our lives in the USA today, I wonder what is going on right under our noses today that may someday become a blip in a future professor’s study. We know in American history, farms, towns, and cities were all built in close proximity to water supplies or areas with sufficient precipitation, or both. This was done for human consumption, irrigation or transportation needs. Immediate changes in the supply or quality of the water were readily apparent. Times in history like the famed Dust Bowl of the 1930s in the Great Plains saw major changes in populations and occupations. Farmers left the dried up land and headed for cities like Los Angeles. This was an obvious change. But slow changes in water availability, like a dropping water table or increasing contaminants, are harder to see and react to. And now that most of us rely on underground pipes to “magically” supply us with water, we really don't give it much of a thought—until the day when we open the faucet and nothing, or something not exactly like water, comes out. When that happens will we look to our government, just as many Syrians have, and ask, “how could you let this happen?” Will this be a type of climate change that will bring conflict?

We all need to continue to increase our attention to the wide variety of water issues that surround our neighborhoods, towns, cities, workplaces, counties, countries, and world. We must become more aware of changes in our fresh water supplies, learn to use those resources more efficiently, and embrace recycling concepts as often as possible. While we may not be able to affect climate temperature issues that drive conflict and unrest, it is possible that we can counteract somewhat those related to water changes.

Update February 6, 2014: I wrote another post about water and conflict…but this time it's about how water was part of a conflict's resolution!

Contact Keith B.

Drink Local. Drink Tap.: Bringing Safe Drinking Water to Uganda

by Guest Bloggers Published 8.5.2013

Erin Huber is the founder and executive director of Drink Local. Drink Tap., Inc.™ a non-profit organization focused on creatively reconnecting people to local water. She inspires people to become better stewards of water through education and awareness in the west and she designs and implements sustainable water projects in the east (Africa). Huber’s passion for safe drinking water is supported by more than a decade of volunteer work and awards, a B.S. of Environmental Science and an M.S. of Urban Studies from Cleveland State University, emphasizing sustainability policy and new economics.

When I last wrote, Drink Local. Drink Tap. had just returned from drilling 180 foot deep borehole (new water source) in Uganda for St. Bonaventure Primary School. Previously, children had been walking miles each day to collect water they did not know was even safe to drink. We’ve learned a lot in the past few years and made a positive impact in the world thanks to Kinetico, all of our sponsors, volunteers, Wavemaker Program students and you.

This year, we plan to build three sustainable water projects in Uganda at two orphan schools so that children and their community can be healthy, experience a better education and stay safe. In late 2013, we will install a tap system for the children at St. Bonaventure. This phase of the project will help students hydrate, wash, complete chores, cook, grow food, get a better education and experience even less sickness and death. In Masindi, Uganda, we will build a two part project at Family Spirit AIDS Orphanage. A shallow borehole and gravity fed farm irrigation system will be built for the children in order to remove the cumbersome walk for water and increase sustainable food production. This will help the orphan school save funds, improve health and increase nutrition for the already vulnerable children. Just this summer two children have died from HIV and TB; we cannot leave them to continue to worry about death from dirty water too.

We are excited to get back to Uganda, but we can only help others with your help. Youth and adults everywhere are getting inspired and involved, especially the students involved in our Wavemaker Program for schools. We have already worked directly with 30 classrooms this year and can reach another 20 in the fall thanks to recent support from Kinetico Incorporated. The students in our Wavemaker Program take action to care for our water locally, but understand that all water is connected and it’s important to help other students in need of access to safe water. They have been raising funds to help build our safe water projects, volunteering at beach and river cleanups, conserving water and reducing their plastic waste to become positive wave makers in the world.

Erin Huber of DLDT with a group of Ugandan schoolchildren

We’ve also had the help of individuals and organizations to raise money and spread awareness for our next three water projects. In the spring of 2013, David Christof ran and biked from Prague to Morocco (Africa) 3,000 kilometers in 63 days to support phase three at St. Bonaventure. We celebrated World Water Day at the Greater Cleveland Aquarium with Wavemaker Program students and also hosted a private documentary screening event.

It can be overwhelming to think about all of the pollution in the world, the one billion people without access to safe drinking water or t All posts tagged 'Cyanobacteria'

Pea Soup: A Second Helping

by Ed R Published 9.9.2015

In my February blog, I introduced you to a pretty serious situation which is taking place in many parts of the country and all over the world: algal blooms, cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins.  Well, it looks like last year's problems are once again repeating themselves.  First a quick refresher...

Cyanotoxins are a group of toxic compounds produced by cyanobacteria.  They can be dermatoxins (affect skin) hepatoxins (affect the liver), or neurotoxins (affect the nervous system). Cyanotoxins have caused human or animal illness in more than 50 countries and at least 35 states, and can occur in both fresh and sea water.

Cyanobacteria are often referred to as blue-green algae but they are really bacteria that are photosynthetic.  They resemble algae but are really quite different.  Not all cyanobacteria produce toxins, and those that do can produce toxins that vary in potency and are therefore a health concern.

So, what happened over the last 12 months in response to this problem?  Well, a lot actually.  In May of this year, the USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) issued a "health advisory" for two cyanotoxins, microcystin and cylindrospermopsin (see table below).

USEPA 10 day Health Advisory Levels

Health advisories are not regulations, but provide guidelines to officials so that they can adequately protect the public health.  There is more than one type of health advisory. Below is a chart and description of the types. 

Harmful Algal Bloom Advisory Types:

Recreational Public Health Advisory - A Recreational Public Health Advisory sign will be posted at beaches where toxin levels exceed the recommended threshold, warning individuals who are elderly or very young and people with compromised immune systems that swimming or wading is not recommended.

Recreational No Contact Advisory - A No Contact Advisory sign will be posted when toxin levels exceed the recommended threshold and there are one or more probable cases of human illness or pet deaths attributable to HABs.  This sign will warn people that unsafe toxins are present in the water and to avoid any contact.

Drinking Water Advisory - Do Not Drink (bottle-fed infants and children younger than school age) - A Do Not Drink Advisory will be issued for bottle-fed infants and children younger than school age when the toxin levels exceed the recommended thresholds.  Alternative water should be used for drinking, making infant formula, making ice, brushing teeth, and preparing food.  Healthy school age children and adults may use the water.  Do not boil the water.

Drinking Water Advisory - Do No Drink (for all) - A Do Not Drink Advisory will be issued when the toxin levels exceed the recommended thresholds.  Alternative water should be used for drinking, making infant formula, making ice, brushing teeth, and preparing food.  Healthy adults may use the water for bathing, washing hands, washing dishes and doing laundry.  Do not boil the water.

Drinking Water Advisory - Do Not Use - A Do Not Use Advisory will be issued when the toxin levels exceed the recommended thresholds.  Alternative water should be used for all purposes.  Do not boil the water.

(Source OEPA)

Additionally, no less than five federal and numerous state bills have been introduced to address algal bloom monitoring, toxin levels and fertilizer applications.  Nearly every alphabet soup agency and organization is focusing on this problem.  Even NASA is getting into the act, joining forces with the EPA, the USGS (United States Geological Survey) and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to implement a satellite early warning system.  In addition, 32 states established dedicated resources to answer questions and provide guidance.  The problem isn't just here, but is international in scope.  As an aside, in April of this year, I attended the U.S. Algal Toxin Conference in Akron, Ohio.  Representatives from seven different countries, all of the government agencies, water utility representatives, engineering firms, professional organizations and academia all weighed in on this issue.  "Red Tides" in the Gulf, the "Blob" on the West Coast, and the coming of "El Nino" are all on the radar.

Closer to home, scientists are predicting that the western end of Lake Erie will see one of the most severe outbreaks of toxic algal blooms in recent years.  Late August through September is the critical time, and believe me, conditions are ripe.  Fortunately, this situation was taken very seriously since the events of last year and there are tools in the box to keep this from becoming a health threat.  To find out more in depth information on this subject, including the effectiveness of various technologies for treating it, go to:  http://1.usa.gov/1vlrJxe

Stay Smart, Stay Well



Contact Ed R.

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