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WaterOperator.org Blog

The State of California Drinking Water

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California has long been an epicenter of water issues, but the current megadrought and chronic infrastructure underfunding has brought the crisis to a head. According to a recently published study, California's water systems are beginning to fail across the state. Medium and small-sized public water systems are especially vulnerable.

The report claims to be the first comprehensive analysis of how safe water is provided in California. The study sampled 2,779 public water systems and nearly half proved to be at some risk of failing to provide safe drinking water. Roughly one-third of state small water systems sampled in the study were found to potentially contain contaminants like nitrate and arsenic

The greatest takeaway from the findings was that more funding is needed and that investments should prioritize the most at-risk and underserved communities. However, in the short term, bottled water or home filtration systems could be provided to communities that need drinking water immediately, according to the report. Long-term solutions to these problems include enhancing water treatment, consolidating small and underperforming water systems, and recruiting experts that can advise communities on how to improve their systems.

Preparing Your Water System for Winter Weather

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Is your water system prepared for winter this year? The extreme weather that can come with the winter season is only growing more severe as climate change intensifies. Many areas across the country have experienced some of the coldest temperatures they have ever had in the last decade. In this era, winter weather can even impact the most unexpected places. 

The historic winter outbreak that occurred in Southeast Texas earlier this year proves that unexpected winter weather can happen anywhere. The storm caused power outages, broken pipes, and billions of dollars in damage because the state was not prepared for winter weather. Even though you think your utility might not have to worry about preparing for winter because you live in a historically warm climate, it never hurts to be prepared.

Preparing for winter is also a smart financial decision. Water officials say that allowing backflow preventers and outdoor water pipes to freeze can be a costly mistake. Frozen water lines can also cause expensive water leaks. Although winter weather can be intense and unpredictable, there are things that you can do to be more prepared. 

Impacts of Extreme Cold and Winter Weather
Cold weather can bring freezing temperatures, heavy snowfall, and ice storms that can have multiple compounding impacts on a community that may include, but are not limited to: 

  • Pipe breaks throughout the distribution system.
  • Loss of power and communication lines.
  • Limited access to facilities due to icy roads or debris such as downed tree limbs.
  • Reduced workforce due to unsafe travel conditions throughout the service area.
  • Source water quality impacts due to increased amount of road salt in stormwater runoff.
  • Potential flooding risk due to snowpack melt and ice jams (accumulations of ice in rivers or streams).
  • Potential surface water supply challenges as ice and frozen slush can block valves and restrict intakes.
Wastewater Cold Weather Maintenance 
Much like drinking water utilities, wastewater utilities can experience ice formation in various process components and reaction rate changes in chemical, physical, and biological reactions. However, they also experience ones specific to wastewater facilities.

Cold weather can impact the bacteria that many wastewater treatment plants use to treat their wastewater. This is because the bacteria typically perform best between 75 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit and when the temperature dips below that the bacteria struggle to consume the waste. When bacteria slow down their consumption of waste BOD (Biological Oxygen Demand) and COD (Chemical Oxygen Demand) levels in the effluent rise. One way to maintain acceptable effluent levels is by adding additional chemicals through the process of bioaugmentation. 

Strengthen Your Resiliency 
Tips to help prepare your utility: 

  • Make sure all your employees have the proper equipment.
  • Check your supply inventory.
  • Stock up on supplies in case your employees need to stay overnight.
  • Exercise your valves.
  • Weatherproof your booster stations.
  • Note whether your employees have the equipment they need for these conditions.
  • Stock extra fuel.

The 2017 small systems FYI from the Indiana Section of AWWA covers additional winterizing tips for water utilities specifically related to security, hydrants, storage tanks, backflow, emergency preparation, wells, worker needs, and pumping equipment. The U.S. EPA recommends coordinating with your state’s Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (WARN) if an emergency should arise. 

Customer Communication
Communicating with your customers is an important part of preparing your utility for winter weather. Communicating with customers helps to create a trustworthy relationship, especially during an emergency like an extreme weather event. 

You can help make sure your customers are prepared by sharing resources like information on how to winterize their homes and prevent frozen pipes. You can also draft water advisory messages ahead of time to ensure they follow public information protocols and have appropriate distribution channels.

Are Solar Powered Water Treatment Plants the Future?

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Clean water and clean energy are both essential on the road to a more sustainable future. To be able to tackle two issues at once and provide clean water using clean energy is exactly the kind of innovation that the world needs. A few wastewater treatment plants across the country are taking matters into their own hands and converting their plants to solar-powered energy. 

The solar farm for the Wastewater Treatment Plant in New Stanton was just finished. The Federalsburg Wastewater Treatment Plant just received over one million dollars in grant funding for the construction of a solar panel system. The city of Danbury, Connecticut is also considering a solar installation that would power their city’s wastewater treatment plant. The Diablo Water District also installed a solar power system in their facility to help them achieve their ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2027.

Powering water treatment plants with solar power helps the environment and it can help facilities save money because it can lock in electrical rates. It also makes facilities more resilient to power outages from natural disasters or other power grid failures. Utilities that convert their water treatment facility to solar power help their community and country work towards achieving the renewable energy goals the world is striving towards. 

Consumer Confidence Report Rule Revision Updates

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Everyone has a right to know what is in their drinking water and where it comes from. That is why the original consumer confidence reports (CCR) rule was established in 1998 after amendments were made to the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1996. The goal of the reports is to provide community members with updated information about the state of their drinking water that is both accurate and accessible. These reports are also known as annual water quality reports and every community water supplier needs to submit one by July 1st each year. 

America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 later called for an amendment to the rule that would require the U.S. EPA to revise CCR regulations, allow electronic delivery of CCRs, and require large systems to deliver CCRs twice a year. The U.S. EPA is currently in the process of revising the Consumer Confidence Report Rule. After meeting with various stakeholders about improving the effectiveness of communicating drinking water information, they identified five areas that could use improvement

  1. CCR understandability,
  2. Reporting MCLs in numbers greater than or equal to 1.0,
  3. Reporting period for including a Tier 3 Public Notice (PN) in the CCR,
  4. Certification of CCR delivery and content by the CWS to the primacy agency, and
  5. Electronic delivery of the CCR.

The U.S. EPA is anticipating that the final rule should be released by March 2024. Many resources and documents are available on the U.S. EPA website about how to comply with CCR requirements

Optimization Offers "Cushion" to Stay in Compliance

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Were you curious to learn more about the "hot topic" issues Dave McMillan discussed in episode 5 of Tap Talk? The Louisiana Department of Health recently organized a 5-hour virtual training as part of their Area-Wide Optimization Program (AWOP) that goes in deep.

 

According to U.S. EPA, AWOP is "a cost-effective approach to increasing public health protection, proactively achieving regulatory compliance, improving treatment plant performance, and maintaining high water quality throughout the distribution system." In the video, engineer Alicia Martinez describes it more plainly as "going above and beyond so you have cushion when things go wrong." Topics covered in this recording include:

  • Naturally Occurring Ammonia
  • A Practical Guide to Breakpoint Chlorination
  • Chloramine Disinfection Overview
  • Interactive Case Studies – Accessing Chloramine Systems
  • Dosage Calculations using Davidson Pie Wheel

Please note that this recording is shared for informational purposes only and typically CEUs are not able to be awarded by your certification entity for watching a video recording without specific, prior approval.

Elevating Women in Water

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Contributed by Margaret Golden

Women make up over half of the population, but account for less than 20% of workers in the water industry. The work that women contribute to the water industry is necessary and important, offering valuable insight to bring the industry into the future.

With a new generation of workers on the rise, it is important that women feel empowered to work in the water. Brianna Huber, chemist with the City of East Moline, is on a mission to not only recruit women into the industry but see equity in their opportunities. Her non-profit, Her2O, is currently seeking members who are ready to forge lasting change.

Women across the country are already making great impacts, breaking glass ceilings and blazing their path to the top of the water world. Two leaders in the water industry recently discussed what it means to them to be a woman in the water industry.

Newsha Ajami, the Director of Urban Water Policy at Water in the West at Stanford University, discussed in a podcast what we need to do to transition to 21st century sustainable water management. Michelle Harrison talked about her favorite parts about working as a wastewater treatment operator at the Northwestern Water & Sewer District.

Many organizations take the time to specifically acknowledge the women in their work place during women's history month. Last spring the U.S. EPA highlighted Sandhya Parshionikar, Director of the Water Infrastructure Division, Center for Environmental Solutions and Emergency Response. Rural Communities Assistant Partnership highlighted Ines Polonius, CEO of Communities Unlimited.

Cuyamaca College in El Cajon also hosts an annual symposium dedicated to Women in Water.

Wastewater Collection System Components

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Contributed by Phil Vela

A wastewater collection system is a series of pipes, tunnels, conduits and other devices that transport wastewater from homes, businesses and industries to a central treatment plant. Transport of the wastewater is either by gravity (the preferred method) or with the use sanitary lift or pump stations to either a location that gravity can be used or to another lift or pump station and finally to the wastewater treatment plant. In either case, the collection system has many functioning parts as shown and described below.

Figure 1 (source) shows the different types and sizes of sewer lines in a typical wastewater collection system. They range from the smallest (approximately 4 inches) located at the home or business to the large truck mains (minimum 12 inches and can be as large as 27 ft tunnels in large cities) that carry the sewerage to the waste treatment plant. A brief description of each follows.

Here's house the Louisville Metropolitan Sewer District describes each of the components:

House Sewer conveys the sewerage from a building to the lateral or branch lines.

Lateral & Branch Sewers are the upper ends of the municipal sewer system. Laterals dead-end at their upstream end with branch sewers collecting the wastewater from several lateral sewer lines.

Sub-main Sewers are collectors for numerous lateral and branch sewers from an area of several hundred acres or a specific neighborhood or housing development They convey the wastewater to larger trunk sewer lines, to lift stations or to a neighborhood package water quality treatment center.

Trunk/Main Sewers serve as the main arteries of the wastewater collection system. They collect and convey the wastewater from numerous main sewer lines either to a water quality treatment center or to a interceptor sewer.

Interceptor Sewers receive the wastewater numerous from trunk sewers and convey it to a water quality treatment center. These are the largest diameter lines in the sewer system and the furthest downstream in the system.

Lift or Pump Stations are utilized in gravity sewer systems to lift (pump) wastewater to a higher elevation when the route followed by a gravity sewer would require the sewer to be laid at an insufficient slope or at an impractical depth. Lift stations vary in size and type depending upon the quantity of wastewater to be handled and the height it must be lifted.

This video from American Water College describes the components of a wastewater collection system:

Using Willow Trees to Treat Wastewater

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This article was featured in a recent edition of Innovations for Small Systems, our monthly water technology newsletter.

Researchers at University of Montreal, Canada have found a way to filter the waste from municipal wastewater through the roots of willow trees while also producing renewable bioenergy and 'green' chemicals. The study, which was published in Science of the Total Environment, details the experiment conducted in Quebec, Canada to investigate the potential for sustainable wastewater treatment through phytofiltration, an emerging method to remove contaminants from water through the use of plants, to be integrated with renewable biorefinery. 

Phytofiltration plantation is an alternative wastewater treatment method where root systems from non-food crops, such as fast-growing trees, are used to capture contaminants and nutrients from wastewater. Short rotation coppice (SRC) willow has been considered as a promising renewable bioenergy crop due to its natural tolerance to contamination and the roots ability to filter out nitrogen in sewage, which can then be harvested for renewable lignocellulosic biofuels. This concept of a biorefinery illustrate the potential of multifunctional biotechnologies to address environmental challenges caused by human activities.

Photo Credit: Katy Walters

Studies Track PFAS Through Wastewater Facilities

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This article was featured in a recent edition of Innovations for Small Systems, our monthly water technology newsletter.

University of New Hampshire (UNH) researchers have conducted two of the first studies in New England to show that per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are ending up in the environment differently after being processed through wastewater treatment facilities, making it more challenging to set acceptable screening levels.

Researchers including Paula Mouser, associate professor of civil and environment engineering at UNH, aimed to highlight the gaps around contaminants of emerging concerns (CECs) in wastewater residuals and to stress that more research is needed to assess the impact of facility design and operation on the treatment of CECs before costly upgrades are implemented to comply with stricter drinking water standards. 

The first study, which was recently published in The Royal Society of Chemistry, investigated the distribution and fate of 24 different PFAS through six New Hampshire wastewater treatment facilities to examine how they are distributed after being treated. The study aimed to characterize PFAS in wastewater treatment influent, sludge, and effluent discharging into the Great Bay Estuary in southeastern New Hampshire. 

The second study, which was featured in the New England Water Environment Association Journal, evaluated the changes in 24 PFAS and 21 pharmaceutical and personal care products (PPCPs) during wastewater treatment and assessed the composition of PFAS in biosolids post-stabilization treatment. Recent studies have suggested PPCPs and PFAS from land-applied biosolids may accumulate in soils, agricultural crops, and food products. This study compares the composition and concentration of PFAS from 39 biosolid samples collected from WWTFs in New Hampshire and Vermont.

Photo Credit: Conservation Law Foundation

Free Wastewater Quizzes

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Last year the much-loved Skills Builder tool from WEF, the Water Environment Federation, received an refresh along with a commitment to keep it updated.

The WEF Skills Builder offers randomized 10-question quizzes on wastewater and laboratory topics at three difficulty levels. The updates modernized the functionality as well as aligned the questions with ABC's standards for subject matter and format.

The tool is free to use and correct answers are provided, along with linked references to WEF's publication store.

Study guides and test preparation resources are a popular topic on our blog, including this post on studying for certification exams.