drinking water

Science Guides Public Health Protection for Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais

As a country, we’ve come a long way toward providing clean air, water, and land – essential resources that support healthy, productive lives. But we have more work to do to make sure that every American has access to safe drinking water.

That’s why EPA launched a concerted engagement effort with key partners and stakeholders – including state, tribal and local governments, drinking water utilities, and public health, environmental and community stakeholders – to develop and implement a national action plan to address critical drinking water challenges and opportunities.

As always, our work to protect public health and the environment must consistently be built on a foundation of sound science and data. When it comes to drinking water, scientific information helps us identify pollutants of concern – including new or emerging contaminants – assess potential health impacts, and understand the steps needed to address them.

Today, based on the latest science on two chemical contaminants called PFOA and PFOS, EPA released drinking water health advisories to provide the most up-to-date information on the health risks of these chemicals. These advisories will help local water systems and state, tribal and local officials take the appropriate steps to address PFOA and PFOS if needed.

For many years, PFOA and PFOS were widely used in carpets, clothing, furniture fabrics, food packaging, and other materials to make them more resistant to water, grease, and stains. PFOA and PFOS were also used for firefighting at airfields and in a number of industrial processes.  Between 2000 and 2002, PFOS was voluntarily phased out of production in the U.S. by its primary manufacturer. And EPA asked eight major companies to commit to eliminate their production and use of PFOA by the end of 2015 and they have indicated that they have met their commitments. While there are some limited ongoing uses of these chemicals, in recent years, blood testing data has shown that exposures are declining across the country.

For most people, their source of exposure to PFOA and PFOS has come through food and consumer products. But drinking water can be an additional source of exposure in the small percentage of communities where these chemicals have contaminated water supplies.  This is typically a localized issue associated with a specific facility – for example, in communities where a manufacturing plant or airfield made or used these chemicals.

EPA’s assessment indicates that drinking water with individual or combined concentrations of PFOA and PFOS below 70 parts per trillion is not expected to result in adverse health effects over a lifetime of exposure.  These levels reflect a margin of protection, including for the most sensitive populations.

If these chemicals are found in drinking water systems above these levels, system operators should quickly conduct additional sampling to assess the level, scope, and source of contamination.  They should also promptly notify consumers and consult with their state drinking water agency to discuss appropriate next steps. Public notification is especially important for pregnant or nursing women because of the impact these chemicals can have on the development of fetuses and breastfed or formula-fed infants. There are a number of options available to water systems to lower concentrations of these chemicals in the drinking water supply.

EPA will continue sharing the latest science and information so that state and local officials can make informed decisions and take actions to protect public health.  This is an important part of our broader effort to support states and public water systems as we work together to strengthen the safety of America’s drinking water.

For more information on the health advisories for PFOA and PFOS, visit the webpage.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Get to Know Your Water

by Jennie Saxe

Get to know your H2O during National Drinking Water Week. US EPA Photo by Eric Vance.

Get to know your H2O during National Drinking Water Week.  US EPA Photo by Eric Vance

There’s no time like National Drinking Water Week to get to know your H2O. Here are a few ways you can boost your water IQ.

Check out the Consumer Confidence Report that you should receive from your water utility no later than July 1st. These reports are a snapshot of community water system water quality results from the past year. Your water provider may also post this important report online or deliver it to you by email.

Get to know the drinking water sources in your area by using EPA’s Drinking Water Mapping Application to Protect Source Waters. Find out who supplies your water, whether there are potential contaminant sources nearby, and learn how you can get involved with a source water protection partnership, such as the Schuylkill Action Network or the Lower Susquehanna Source Water Protection Partnership. You can also explore the Source Water Collaborative infographic on protecting drinking water sources using different Clean Water Act programs.

Or take this new EPA training on climate change impacts on water resources to learn how a changing climate affects water quality and availability. Kids can learn more about drinking water and the water cycle with a lesson plan or hands-on activity from EPA’s website.

And in case you missed it, EPA is embarking on a concerted engagement with key partners and stakeholders to develop and implement a national action plan to address critical drinking water challenges and opportunities. Learn more about the effort in this recent blog.

 

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She spent her first 7 years at EPA working in the Region’s drinking water program.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Moving Forward for America’s Drinking Water

By Joel Beauvais

Our nation’s record of progress in advancing public health under the Safe Drinking Water Act is significant.  But too little water in the West, flooding from extreme weather in the Midwest and Southeast, and the recent water quality issues in Flint, Michigan have rightly focused national attention on America’s drinking water.  As a country, we can and must do more to make sure that every American has access to safe drinking water.  EPA is committed to working together with our governmental partners, communities and stakeholders to strengthen the nation’s drinking water systems. That is why, today, we are announcing the next steps in that effort.  Beginning next month, EPA will lead a series of engagements to inform a national action plan on drinking water, to be released by the end of the year.  In addition, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) has begun a new study of the science and technology relevant to ensuring the safety of the nation’s drinking water.

THE PROGRESS WE’VE MADE

With public attention rightly focused on drinking water quality in communities across the country, it’s worth remembering how far we’ve come in providing clean safe drinking water.  Before Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974 – granting EPA the authority and the funding to take action and affirming the leading role of states and municipalities – more than 40 percent of our nation’s drinking water systems failed to meet even the most basic health standards.

Today, over 300 million Americans depend on 152,000 public drinking water systems and collectively drink more than one billion glasses of tap water each day.  Our agency has established standards for more than 90 contaminants, and our compliance data show that more than 90 percent of the nation’s water systems consistently meet those standards.  Clean water is the lifeblood of healthy, vibrant communities and our nation’s economy.  Making sure that all Americans have reliable access to safe drinking water is essential, and a core task for EPA.

Over the years, through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund established by Congress in 1996, $30 billion in low-interest loans have supported infrastructure projects that are delivering drinking water to thousands of communities across the country.  This has supplemented local and state finance of drinking water infrastructure – especially in low-income communities and where public health risk is the highest.

And, relatedly, our Clean Water Rule is a major step forward to protect our nation’s precious water resources, including streams that are the source of drinking water for 117 million Americans – over one third of the country’s population.

We’ve come so far.  But our work is far from done.

NEW AND REMAINING CHALLENGES

The crisis in Flint, Michigan has brought to the forefront the challenges many communities across the country are facing, including from lead pipes that carry their drinking water and uneven publicly-available information around drinking water quality.  At the same time, as new technology advances our detection ability, we’re detecting new contaminants in our water from industrial chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other sources that can pose risks to public health.

And science now shows that climate change – especially the extreme weather and drought impacts it brings – are placing added stress on water resources and creating uncertainty in many regions of the country.

In some areas, pollution threatens upstream sources like rivers and lakes that feed into our drinking water.  Hundreds of thousands of Americans were cut off from drinking water because of a chemical spill in Charleston, West Virginia and a harmful algal bloom on Lake Erie that impacted the drinking water for Toledo, Ohio.  We need to protect our drinking water sources and the Clean Water Rule is critical to that effort.

Meanwhile, EPA data show that at least $384 billion in improvements will be needed through 2030 to maintain, upgrade and replace thousands of miles of pipe and thousands of treatment plants, storage tanks and water distribution systems that make up our country’s water infrastructure.  And if local and state governments do not lean into these investments and instead defer and delay, rebuilding our water infrastructure will only become more expensive.

Too often, the toughest infrastructure challenges are found in low-income, minority communities – both large and small – where inadequate revenue and investment have left many water systems crumbling from age and neglect, and where citizens lack the resources and timely and accurate information about their water quality to do something about it.

These are big challenges and EPA recognizes that no one can tackle them alone.

MOVING FORWARD – ENGAGING KEY PARTNERS AND STAKEHOLDERS ON A NATIONAL ACTION PLAN FOR SAFE DRINKING WATER

That’s why we’re launching a concerted, strategic engagement with key partners and stakeholders – including state, tribal and local governments, drinking water utilities, and public health, environmental and community stakeholders – to develop and implement a national action plan to address the critical drinking water challenges and opportunities before us.

EPA has already intensified our work with state drinking water programs with a priority focus on implementation of the federal Lead and Copper Rule, including directing EPA staff to meet with officials from every state to make sure they’re addressing any high lead levels and fully implementing the current rule.

We sent letters to every governor and every state environmental and/or health commissioner of states that implement the Safe Drinking Water Act, urging them to work with EPA on steps to strengthen protections against lead and on a broader set of critical priorities to keep our drinking water safe.  We’re following up with each and every state on actions to increase public health protection, transparency and accountability.

We’re now taking the next step forward.  In the coming weeks, EPA will launch a targeted engagement with key state co-regulators, regulated utilities, and nongovernmental stakeholders on priority issues related to implementing the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The focus of that engagement will include:

  • Advancing Next Generation Safe Drinking Water Act Implementation:  Identify key opportunities and initiate work on critical next steps to strengthen and modernize state and federal implementation of Safe Drinking Water Act regulations and programs, including ways to increase public data transparency and accountability.
  • Addressing Environmental Justice and Equity in Infrastructure Funding:  Identify additional steps federal, state, tribal and local governments, and utilities can take to better ensure that drinking water infrastructure challenges of low-income environmental justice communities and small systems are being appropriately prioritized and addressed, including through increased information, sharing and replicating best practices, and building community capacity.
  • Strengthening Protections against Lead in Drinking Water: Prioritize opportunities to collaborate and make progress on implementing the current Lead and Copper Rule, particularly in environmental justice communities and expand and strengthen opportunities for stakeholder engagement to support the development of a revised rule.
  • Emerging and Unregulated Contaminant Strategies:  Develop and implement improved approaches through which EPA, state, tribal and local governments, utilities and other stakeholders can work together to prioritize and address the challenges posed by emerging and unregulated contaminants such as algal toxins and perfluorinated compounds (PFCs).

In each of these areas, we will work together with our partners and stakeholders to set a strategic agenda and identify and implement priority, near-term actions we can take in the coming months.  By the end of this year, we will release a summary of our progress and a national action plan for the future.

At the same time, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) is beginning a new study of the science and technology relevant to ensuring the Nation’s drinking-water quality.  PCAST will seek input from EPA, other relevant agencies, and a wide range of experts on ideas on investments in new technology and infrastructure to protect drinking water resources, detect pollutants, advance treatment to remove contaminants and pathogens, and develop improved infrastructure for the future.  Following this review, PCAST will recommend actions the federal government can take, in concert with cities and states, to promote application of the best available science and technology to drinking-water safety.  This builds on current efforts by the Administration to draw on the power of existing and breakthrough technology to boost innovation in water supply.

We owe it to our kids today and to future generations to take steps now and develop future actions to ensure that all Americans have affordable access to high-quality water when and where they need it.  We look forward to partnering with the public and stakeholders in the development of this plan.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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DWMAPs: Showing the Way to Cleaner Water

By Mary Schollhamer

Growing up, I have always been a big fan of outdoor activities and enjoyedA family dog enjoys the beach. spending time at the beach with my family. The ocean was a big part of our lives, whether we were fishing, swimming, or on my grandfather’s boat. Now that I have a family of my own, we pack the car and the dog and head to the Outer Banks on the coast of North Carolina.

This summer, as my family was playing in the shallow tide and my dog was chasing crabs, I asked myself, “Is my family safe?”

Last month, EPA released a new tool to answer my question: the Drinking Water Mapping Application to Protect Source Waters (DWMAPS). DWMAPs is an online mapping tool to help you find information about drinking water and surface water in your community. I zoomed the map into the beach near Kitty Hawk, NC and added a layer of data to tell me if there were any existing Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs) for these waters. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum A screenshot of the DWMAPs tool.amount of a pollutant that can occur in a water body and serves as a potential starting point for restoration and maintaining water quality standards. The map provided links to location-specific reports, one of which told me the only problem I should be concerned about is the high-level of mercury in the fish caught in this area.  The DWMAPS tool is very informative and great for helping to protect your family and pets from harmful substances.

While DWMAPs is an easy way to find out about sources of pollution near your drinking water or how to get involved in protecting sources of drinking water in my community, it’s also a great tool for drinking water professionals. DWMAPs can be used to identify potential sources of contamination in specific locations, find data to support source water assessments, and help implement plans to manage potential sources of contamination. The new tool can also evaluate accidental spills and releases, identifying where emergency response resources for accidental releases must be readily available, and promote integration of drinking water protection activities with other environmental programs at the EPA, state, and local levels.

For information about what you can do to help, visit DWMAPs and click “What Can I Do About It?”

About the author:  Mary Schollhamer is the Acting Deputy Director of Communications in the Office of Water. She holds a Master’s Degree in English with a focus on ecofeminism from Stony Brook University and loves dogs.

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Water for Emergencies: Bigger Solutions than Bottled Water

By Lauren Wisniewski

It is easy to take our drinking water and wastewater services for granted.  Most, if not all, of us have lost electricity in our homes, but I can recall only one time when I turned on my faucet and I had no tap water. That time was in November 2010, just a day after coming home from the hospital after giving birth to my twin daughters.

I panicked. I sent my husband down to the basement to get our emergency supply of bottled water, which I bought soon after I started working on water infrastructure resilience and emergency preparedness. Those bottles were long expired. I was ready to send him to the store to buy bottled water (which may not be an option in a wide-scale event). Thankfully, my sister quickly determined that our outage was due to water main repairs on our street and the county utility workers soon had our water working again.

Though our water outage was brief, it highlighted the importance of preparedness both at the personal and utility level. In our home, my family now stores an ample emergency  supply water in our basement as part of our emergency supplies, and I make sure to replace it before it expires. In our community, I know that my county is prepared for power outages, too. It has stand-by emergency generators or transfer switches to connect readily to a portable generator at its water pumping stations and has enough fuel to power its generators for several days. To find out more about building power resilience at your water utility, check out the Power Resilience Guide for Drinking Water and Wastewater Utilities, which provides tips, case studies, and short videos to help ensure your vital water services continue even during power outages.

The last few years, I have combined my passion for emergency preparedness and knowledge of water utilities to focus on increasing power resilience at drinking water and wastewater utilities across the country.  Check out EPA’s Power to Keep Water Moving video that highlights the importance of power resilience at water utilities.

About the author: Lauren Wisniewski has worked as an environmental engineer in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Office of Water, since 2002.  Her efforts have been directed towards power resilience at water utilities, Multi-Sector Infrastructure Protection, Climate Ready Water Utilities, Active and Effective Security, Water Quality Standards, and watershed modeling.  Her work involves coordination between drinking water and wastewater utilities and state, local, and federal agencies.  Lauren has a Bachelor’s of Science in Engineering (BSE), summa cum laude, in Civil Engineering from Duke University and a Masters of Public Health (MPH) from George Washington University.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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South Korea and the Heartland Connected by World Wide Water

By Jeffery RobichaudSouth Korea Meeting photo 1

Here in Kansas, we are the EPA Regional Office that is farthest from an international border. But surprisingly, we still get our own share of out-of-town visitors.

In August 2015, scientists from our Drinking Water Program and Environmental Science and Technology Division sat down with five South Korean representatives from Kunsan National University, the National Institute of Environmental Research, the Korea Environment Corporation, and the country’s Ministry of the Environment. Dr. JeJung Lee, who is our partner in the very cool KCWaterBug, helped arrange the visit and assisted with translations where necessary.

South Korea Meeting Photo 2

What was truly fascinating, yet I suppose not altogether surprising, were the issues we talked about. This group of scientists from across the Pacific wanted to learn more about how our Agency protects and regulates groundwater in the United States. They also met with staff at the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the University of Kansas, and the U.S. Geological Survey. As it turns out, many of the issues they grapple with are, in fact, the same ones we deal with here in the Heartland.

We first talked about nitrate pollution. Here in the United States, nitrate is regulated in drinking water at public water systems, with a maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per million, which is rarely exceeded.

South Korea has many more private wells in urban areas, while nearly all individuals in metropolitan settings within the United States get their water from regulated public water systems with protected water sources. We learned that sampling at residential homes is difficult for them to accomplish, because homeowners are afraid of losing the ability to use the water or are fearful that they will be required to pay for treatment.

On the remediation (hazardous waste cleanup) side, our visitors were interested in chlorinated solvents and the concerns and risks associated with the vapor intrusion pathway at sites with volatile organic compounds. A specific area of interest was methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE), a gasoline additive that used to be prevalent in the United States, and its associated vapor intrusion concerns and risks.

On this day, EPA did most of the talking. It would have been nice to have had the time to hear more about how South Korea regulates groundwater nationally, South Korea Meeting Photo 3especially private water well use and construction standards, as well as their experiences with water treatment processes and techniques for drinking water and wastewater. Unfortunately, they had a busy schedule and were sprinting over to the University of Kansas to meet with professors, before moving on to Tennessee to meet with staff from the U.S. Geological Survey.

We will just have to wait for another visit. As you can see in the photo, even with the language differences, we managed to share some laughs!

About the Author: Jeffery Robichaud is a second-generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998. He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Water, Wetlands, and Pesticides Division. Jeff’s journeys across the Pacific have always stopped just halfway across, and he hopes to someday cross the International Dateline and visit friends in the Far East.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Getting a Clue about Lead Plumbing

by Lisa Donahue

Photo credit: Eric Vance, US EPA

Photo credit: Eric Vance, US EPA

In the classic murder-mystery board game of Clue, Colonel Mustard or Miss Scarlett might use a lead pipe as a weapon.  Where did that lead pipe come from?  That old mansion probably had lead pipes serving the kitchen, and running from the water main into the basement. Lead was a common plumbing material that was used then to manufacture brass faucets, pipe fittings, solder, and other plumbing components.

Congress banned lead pipes and limited lead in brass and solder in 1986 because lead can affect almost every system in the body. While children are most susceptible, adults can also experience harmful health effects from lead.

Any home, particularly those built before 1986, might still have lead in the plumbing.  Because lead can leach out of the plumbing into our drinking water, Congress recently changed the law to further restrict lead content in plumbing.  Instead of requiring everyone to remove the old pipes and faucets from their homes and businesses, the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act that went into effect in 2014 requires that most fixtures manufactured and sold meet the new, lower-lead standard. When replacing leaky valves, renovating buildings, or building new construction, homeowners and contractors should make sure they’re using products that meet the new, lower-lead standards.

EPA’s consumer guide is a great reference that can help plumbers, contractors, homebuilders, and do-it-yourselfers figure out if the faucet they are buying meets the new standard.   The guide interprets common labeling marks you might find on packaging, in the product specifications, or from independent third-party certifiers to be certain a product meets the tighter standards.  EPA has also put together a Frequently Asked Questions guide to help everyone understand the new law, including the common question of what to do about inventory and replacement parts.

While there is no safe level of lead, the new law ensures that just about any plumbing product that is installed today meets the new standards, because minimizing the amount of lead in plumbing reduces our exposure to lead at the tap.

Most of us don’t think about our plumbing or water quality until there’s a leak or a problem. If you’d like to get “clued-in” to common issues related to water and lead, EPA’s website has more information.

 

About the author: Lisa Donahue is an Environmental Scientist with Region III’s Water Protection Division.  When it’s too dark to hike, bike, or ski, she enjoys playing board games with her family. She’s particularly good at Clue.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Working for Clean Water is a Dream Come True

By Joel Beauvais

I grew up in rural Connecticut in the Housatonic River watershed. My childhood revolved around water, whether it was swimming and fishing in the lakes and streams near my home or hiking in the forested foothills of the Berkshires. It’s a remarkably beautiful part of the country and its waters are a big part of that. But I also learned that problems can lurk beneath the surface, as we were taught early on not to eat the fish we caught because of legacy contamination.

My first job out of college was in Central America, where I worked for several years with indigenous communities to protect the BOSAWAS Biosphere Reserve, the second largest tropical forest in the Western Hemisphere. I spent much of my time traveling by river, living a couple days travel by dugout canoe from the nearest road, electricity or running water. For the communities with whom I worked, water is everything – not just drinking water, but their primary mode of transportation, source of food, and the key to understanding their whole landscape. That experience really brought home to me how critical water is – and how vulnerable poorer communities can be to environmental degradation.

These days, I work in an office instead of the jungle, but I find myself returning to the water again and again. My family loves to canoe and we get out to hike trails by the water every chance we get. Like many families, we visit the ocean every summer – in our case, the Maine coast. When I look at our family photos, it seems every other one is on the water – those experiences are a touchstone for us, as for so many others across the country and the world.

While I’ve worked most of my career on energy and climate issues, my real passion is environmental conservation. Water, to me, is at the heart of that. It’s central to our health, our communities, and our economy.

So I am absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to lead EPA’s Office of Water. I have immense respect for the office and those who work here, as well as for our regional water offices and all of our partners across state and local government and the private sector. I’m really looking forward to listening to, learning from, and partnering with all of you.

During the past two years leading EPA’s Office of Policy, I’ve had the opportunity to play a key role in finalizing some of our key water rules, including the Clean Water Rule to better protect our nation’s streams and wetlands, the Steam Electric rule that keeps 1.4 billion pounds of toxic pollutants out of waterways each year, and the Cooling Water Intake rule that protects fish and shellfish in rivers.

I’ve also played a leadership role on the Agency’s efforts to help communities grow sustainably and to adapt to the impacts of climate change, which has given me a lot of exposure to the Office of Water’s work on green infrastructure, stormwater management and sustainable water infrastructure.

As we look to the year ahead, this is an exciting time for the Office of Water and there’s no question that there’s a tremendous amount to get done. We must continue to help communities build resilience to climate change, finance improvements to infrastructure, provide safe drinking water, and reduce pollution in waterways where people fish and swim. EPA’s continued support for the work of our state, local, and tribal partners and for innovation and technology in the water sector will be critical.

I’m looking forward to working with all of you on all these fronts.

Joel Beauvais serves as the acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at EPA. Prior to his appointment in the Office of Water, Joel served as Associate Administrator for EPA’s Office of Policy, the agency’s primary arm for cross-cutting regulatory policy and economics. He also served as Associate Assistant Administrator in EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, where he oversaw a broad portfolio of domestic and international air quality and climate policy issues, and as Special Counsel to the Office of the Administrator in EPA’s Office of General Counsel. He previously served as counsel to the Committee on Energy and Commerce in the U.S. House of Representatives, worked in private practice, and clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor on the Supreme Court of the United States.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Release of the Energy-Positive Water Resource Recovery Workshop Report

By Adriane Koenig

I’m excited to announce the release of a new joint report from EPA, DOE and NSF that articulates a bold vision for water treatment. Energy-Positive Water Resource Recovery Workshop Report outlines a range of research and actions to transform today’s treatment plants into water resource recovery facilities (WRRFs) that generate clean drinking water, biofuels, chemicals, and other water grades for specific uses, like agriculture. The report summarizes discussions and ideas presented at the Energy-Positive Water Resource Recovery Workshop held last April in Arlington, Virginia.

The meeting was convened as many wastewater treatment facilities, pipes, and related infrastructure in cities around the country approach the end of their expected service life. EPA estimates that it will require an investment of about $600 billion over the next 20 years to continue reliably transporting and treating wastewater and delivering clean drinking water. Given the state of the country’s water infrastructure, this is a prime opportunity to encourage an industry shift from wastewater treatment to water resource recovery. By applying new research and technology, this shift offers the potential to reduce the financial burdens on municipalities, decrease stress on energy systems, cut air and water pollution, improve system resiliency to climate impacts, and support local economic activity.

Experts from industry, academia, national laboratories, and government who participated in the workshop determined that WRRFs should perform four major types of functions:

  1. Efficiently recover the resources in wastewater
  2. Integrate production with other utilities
  3. Engage and inform stakeholders
  4. Run “smart systems”

The group also discussed challenges, including regulatory, technical, social, and financial barriers, all of which must be overcome to enable wide-scale evolution toward energy-positive WRRFs. Finally, participants identified research opportunities that could produce or significantly advance the needed technology.

This report is intended to stimulate further dialogue and accelerate the wide-scale transition of advanced WRRFs. The agencies, in cooperation with the Water Environment Research Foundation, are already addressing one frequent suggestion at the workshop by identifying facilities to serve as potential test beds for new technologies. I encourage you to visit the DOE website to view workshop materials and presentations as well as the full-length report.

Water Headlines

A new report outlines a range of research and actions needed to transform today’s water treatment plants into water resource recovery facilities that generate clean drinking water, biofuels, chemicals, and other water grades for specific uses, like agriculture. Energy-Positive Water Resource Recovery Workshop Report summarizes discussions and ideas presented at workshop held jointly last April by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).

With the nation’s aging water infrastructure, a unique window of opportunity exists to apply new knowledge and technology to create an industry shift from wastewater treatment to water resource recovery. Such a shift offers the potential to reduce the financial burdens on municipalities, decrease stress on energy systems, cut air and water pollution, improve system resiliency to climate impacts, and support local economic activity.

Read more.

About the author: Adriane Koenig is an ORISE Research Participant serving in EPA’s Office of Water, where she promotes new technologies and innovative practices that advance sustainability in the water sector. She has a M.S. in Environmental Sciences and Policy from Johns Hopkins University. 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Providing Clean Water to an African Village: Not a Simple Turn of the Tap

By Emily Nusz

EPA brings in students every summer to work, learn practical environmental skills, and enhance their educational experience through our Pathways Intern Program. The Big Blue Thread is proud to feature several blogs written by these interns, focusing on what motivates them to work in the environmental sector and what attracted them to EPA. We’ve already posted blogs by Andrew Speckin, Sara Lamprise and Kelly Overstreet. Our fourth blog is by Emily Nusz, who continues to intern with our Environmental Data and Assessment staff.

How far away is the nearest water source from where you are sitting now? An arm’s length across your desk? A few feet? Right outside the window?

Villagers carry water jug and food basket

Villagers carry water jug and food basket

Next time you get the urge to take a drink of fresh, ice cold water, take a moment to think about places that may not have the same laws and regulations.

Perhaps you’ve heard about the global water crisis. Many communities in developing countries don’t have easy access to clean drinking water. They must walk miles each day with heavy jugs on their heads, just to collect muddy water from puddles or rivers. This water is then used to drink, wash dishes, and sanitize their bodies. The water is filled with bacteria, parasites, and waste that can cause a variety of debilitating diseases including malaria and cholera. As a result, thousands of people die every day from avoidable diseases caused by contaminated water.

Little do they know, the water they so desperately need is often right beneath their feet.

Emily Nusz (center) with group of Kenyan children

Emily Nusz (center) with group of Kenyan children

A few hot summers ago, members of my church and I traveled to Nairobi, Kenya. Our mission was not only to provide care for children in orphanages, but to provide a village with clean water. We decided the best way to accomplish this task was to build the community a water well in the heart of the village for easy accessibility. Our team raised money for the well, and then we were ready to make a large time and energy commitment to a long-term solution for the people. The excitement of our arrival was very powerful. I remember every face in the village beaming with joy.

Water wells can provide clean water for hundreds of villagers. A pump or a tap built in the center of the community can save an entire day of walking to the nearest muddy puddle, and save hundreds of lives by preventing exposure to harmful or even deadly diseases.

Water can be found in underground, permeable rock layers called aquifers, from which the water can be pumped. An aquifer fills with water from rain or melted snow that drains into the ground. Aquifers are natural filters that trap bacteria and provide natural purification of the groundwater flowing through them. Wells can be dug or drilled, depending on the time and cost of the project. They can be dug using a low-cost, hand-dug method, or built using either a high-cost, deep well method or a shallow well, low-cost method. Safe drinking water can usually be found within 100 feet of the surface.

Kenyan countryside in summer

Kenyan countryside in summer

Although I was not physically involved in building the village well, we all contributed to the mission we set out to accomplish. A well was built by drilling a hole that reached down far enough to reach an aquifer, and even lined with steel to keep out pollutants. Our team put together pipes and hand pumps that enabled the villagers to pull the water out of the well and use it safely. Our team was very gratified to know that the well we built will provide clean water for a community of up to 500 people for many years to come!

Learn more about water wells. The best way to keep our water clean is to stay informed of ways to help reduce the risks and protect the source. Learn how you can help. To learn more about global water statistics, visit Global WASH Fast Facts.

About the Author: Emily Nusz is a Student Intern at EPA Region 7, who worked full-time this summer and will continue part-time during the school year. She is a graduate student at the University of Kansas, studying environmental assessment. Emily is SCUBA certified, and one of her life goals is to scuba dive the Great Barrier Reefs off the coast of Australia.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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