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WaterOperator.org Blog

Backflow Prevention

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Water is normally maintained at a significant pressure to enable water to flow from the tap, shower etc. When pressure fails or is reduced -- as may happen if a water main bursts, pipes freeze, or there is unexpectedly high demand on the water system -- the pressure in the pipe may be reduced and may allow contaminated water from the ground, from storage, or from other sources to be drawn into the system.

We have 226 resources (and counting) on Backflow in our Documents Database that provide valuable information on this topic. You can search for documents that explain the components of a successful cross connection control program and backflow prevention program, the importance of minimizing water hammer and back siphonage, videos on the application and installation of backflow prevention devices, and many other useful guides that will help you to deliver safe and clean water to utility customers. 

To access the wealth of knowledge on Backflow within our database just select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Backflow." Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "HOST," “TYPE,” or “STATE” to narrow the search even further. If you have a specific search term in mind, use the “Keyword Filter” search bar on the right side of the screen.

This is part of our A-Z for Operators series.

Small Drinking Water Webinar Series Recap

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EPA's Office of Research and Development (ORD) and Office of Water (OW), in collaboration with the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA), host this free webinar series to communicate the latest information on solutions for challenges facing small drinking water systems. The series topics vary each month and are primarily designed for state, territory, and tribal staff responsible for drinking water regulations compliance and treatment technologies permitting. We have compiled the webinar recordings that were released in 2023 as part of this series below:

Pathogens | February 2023

Presentation 1: Microbial and Disinfection Byproducts (MDBP) Rules Revision Update
Presentation 2: Challenges and Perspectives of Studying Water Storage Tank Ecosystems in Distribution Systems

Lead and Copper | March 2023

Presentation 1: EPA's Lead Service Line Inventory Guidance
Presentation 2: Corrosion Test Methods

Manganese | April 2023

Presentation 1: Manganese Interference with Disinfectant Residual Methods
Presentation 2: Management of Manganese and Small System Considerations

Harmful Algal Blooms and Algal Toxins | May 2023

Presentation 1: HAB Technical Assistance in El Salvador
Presentation 2: Cyanobacterial Blooms Dynamics as Determined by Nucleic Acid Based Techniques

Bipartisan Infrastructure Law | June 2023

Presentation 1: EPA Water Technical Assistance Opportunities
Presentation 2: Supporting the Selection and Implementation of Technologies to Remove PFAS from Drinking Water and from Treatment Residuals
Presentation 3: Applied Research and Technical Assistance Project on Lead Service Line Identification Technologies

Wildfire Impacts on Drinking Water | July 2023

Presentation 1: Wildfire Implications for Drinking Water Systems
Presentation 2: Wildfires Can Increase Drinking Water Contamination: Nitrate, Arsenic, and Disinfection Byproducts

Cybersecurity | August 2023

Presentation 1: Tools and Resources to Help Your Small Systems Build Cyber Resilience
Presentation 2: Water Distribution System Operational Technology Cybersecurity Research at the Water Security Test Bed

Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5) and a Spotlight Presentation on EPA's Fraud Awareness | October 2023

Presentation 1: Update on the Fifth Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 5)
Presentation 2: EPA Fraud Awareness
Presentation 3: PFAS Drinking Water Methods: Past, Present, and Future

Risk, Crisis, and General Communication | November 2023

Presentation 1: Conversations With Customers: What We’ve Learned from Talking with Them
Presentation 2: Drinking Water Risk Communication Toolkit
Presentation 3: EPA Flint Water Response: Risk Communication Case Study

The Small Drinking Water Systems Webinar Series is scheduled to continue in 2024. Some of the subjects that are likely to be featured this year include Lead Service Line Inventory Guidance, PFAS Treatment, Disinfection Byproducts, and many other topics.

Proposal to Strengthen Lead and Copper Rule

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On November 30, 2023, U.S. EPA announced the proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI). The proposed LCRI is a major advancement in protection from the significant, and irreversible, health effects that can occur after being exposed to lead in drinking water.
  
Key provisions in the proposal include:

  • Achieving 100% Lead Pipe Replacement within 10 years. The proposed LCRI would require the vast majority of water systems to replace lead services lines within 10 years.
  • Locating Legacy Lead Pipes. Under the proposed LCRI, all water systems would be required to regularly update their inventories, create a publicly available service line replacement plan, and identify the materials of all service lines of unknown material.
  • Improving Tap Sampling. The proposed LCRI would require water systems to collect first liter and fifth liter samples at sites with lead service lines and use the higher of the two values when determining compliance with the rule.
  • Lowering the Lead Action Level. EPA is proposing to lower the lead action level from 15 µg/L to 10 µg/L. When a water system’s lead sampling exceeds the action level, the system would be required to inform the public and take action to reduce lead exposure while concurrently working to replace all lead pipes.
  • Strengthening Protections to Reduce Exposure. Water systems with multiple lead action level exceedances would be required to conduct additional outreach to consumers and make filters certified to reduce lead available to all consumers.

Taken together, these provisions in the proposed LCRI would strengthen public health protections, reduce complexity, and streamline implementation. EPA anticipates finalizing the LCRI prior to October 16, 2024.

Further Resources & News... 

Asset Management for Water and Wastewater Utilities

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Asset management is the management of resources to allow water and wastewater systems to be sustainable and efficient, as well as be able to make business decisions that allow you to have the money to run and maintain your system at a desired level of service. Resources (assets) include infrastructure, personnel, equipment, knowledge, and money.

We have over 3,300 resources (and counting) on Asset Management in our Documents Database that provide valuable information on this topic. You can search for documents that explain how to maintain and manage the large, expensive components of your system, how to create an asset management plan, how to build an asset management team, and many other useful guides that will help you to deliver safe and clean water to utility customers. 

To access the wealth of Asset Management knowledge within our database just select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Asset Management." Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "HOST," “TYPE,” or “STATE” to narrow the search even further. If you have a specific search term in mind, use the “Keyword Filter” search bar on the right side of the screen.

This is part of our A-Z for Operators series.

Arsenic in Drinking Water

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Arsenic is a heavy metal and a regulated contaminant in drinking water and wastewater effluent. In 2001, under the Arsenic Rule, EPA adopted a lower standard for arsenic in drinking water of 10 parts per billion (ppb) which replaced the previous maximum contaminant level (MCL) of 50 ppb. Arsenic is a semi-metal element in the periodic table. It is odorless and tasteless. It can enter drinking water supplies from natural deposits in the earth or from agricultural and industrial practices. 

We have 180 resources (and counting) on Arsenic in our Documents Database that provide valuable information on this topic. You can search for documents about the arsenic rule, complying with the arsenic maximum contaminant level, the reporting requirements for the annual Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR), and many other useful guides that will help you to deliver safe and clean water to utility customers. 

To access the wealth of Arsenic related knowledge within our database just select "CATEGORY" in the dropdown then choose "Arsenic." Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "HOST," “TYPE,” or “STATE” to narrow the search even further. If you have a specific search term in mind, use the “Keyword Filter” search bar on the right side of the screen.

This is part of our A-Z for Operators series.

5 Strategies for a Lead-Free Rural Water System

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The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) continues to focus efforts around reducing lead exposure from all sources, particularly for children.

The agency is proposing tighter rules for exposure to lead in older residential buildings and childcare facilities that have completed lead abatement. The draft rule would lower the lead dust hazard level to any level greater than zero — meaning any amount of lead paint found remaining in a building would be considered a hazard.

EPA Deputy Administrator Janet McCabe said in a statement: “This proposal to safely remove lead paint along with our other efforts to deliver clean drinking water and replace lead pipes will go a long way toward protecting the health of our next generation of leaders.”

The proposal complements expected exposure reductions from the replacement of lead-based service lines at public water systems. This article from Water Online (excerpted below) outlines the following suggestions for water utilities in rural areas:

Identify how broad-based the problem is.
It’s hard to make any progress without knowing just how big the problem of lead service lines is in any given community. As other communities have done, utilities can create maps of their service line networks. These maps can help identify concentrations of lead pipelines.

Inform customers about potential lead pipeline contamination.
The average customer doesn’t think about lead contamination when turning on the tap. Customers need to be educated about what their pipes are constructed of and how those materials can affect their water quality. The more they know, the more likely they’ll want their utilities or cooperatives to help them solve the problem.

See how other communities have replaced their lead pipes effectively.
Some communities, utilities, and cooperatives have been very successful in upgrading their water systems. Consequently, other communities should take notice. Building a playbook based on a city or town that has already undertaken the effort can be simpler than starting from scratch.

Look for funding sources.
Any kind of pipe replacement is costly. That’s why it’s important to stay on the leading edge of any funding streams available to cooperatives, utilities, towns, etc. For instance, the EPA has some excellent resources and links to various types of water project grants and loans, such as the Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund.

Build a framework for replacing all the lead service lines.
With the right information and well-educated customers, utilities and cooperatives can begin building timelines to replace all the lead service lines. In time, the overarching goal can be a lead-free water system. Though some customers might not like absorbing minimal costs along the way, most will appreciate not having to worry about the quality of the water they and their families are drinking.

Further Resources:  

Resources and Tools to Help Secure Your Utility's Infrastructure

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Infrastructure Security Month is held annually in November to promote the vital role of critical infrastructure and to remind us why it is important to strengthen the security and resilience of America's critical infrastructure. Below are some useful resources and tools to help your utility secure your infrastructure and increase resilience to natural disasters and malevolent acts that threaten the water sector.

Water Contaminant Information Tool (WCIT)
WCIT is a secure database containing information on priority contaminants of concern for drinking water and wastewater systems to help systems prepare for, respond to, and recover from contamination incidents.

Creating Resilient Water Utilities (CRWU)
CRWU initiative assists drinking water and wastewater utilities in building resilience to climate impacts.

Resilient Strategies Guide for Water Utilities
The Resilient Strategies Guide introduces drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater utilities to the adaptation planning process. Utilities can use the Guide to identify their planning priorities, vulnerable assets, potential adaptation strategies and available funding sources.

Incident Action Checklists for Water Utilities
These 12 checklist templates help with emergency preparedness, response and recovery activities. Incidents include wildfires, flooding, power outages, cybersecurity, and more. 

Federal Funding for Water and Wastewater Utilities in National Disasters (Fed FUNDS)
Fed FUNDS provides information tailored to water and wastewater utilities on federal disaster and mitigation funding programs from FEMA, USDA, EPA, HUD, SBA, and USBR.

Webinar: Decentralized Wastewater Resources for Tribes

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In this webinar recording you’ll learn how to access our clearinghouse of information specifically for wastewater and water operators on WaterOperator.org. You will be shown how to access links to over 15,000 free, publicly available resources, a nationwide calendar, and much more. This webinar was focused specifically on resources that relate to decentralized wastewater for tribes.

The webinar will answer questions such as:

  • What is WaterOperator.org?
  • What topics does the website cover?
  • What onsite wastewater resources are available?
  • How to find the Tribal Contact Manager?
  • What resources are available for tribal personnel about decentralized wastewater?

Below you’ll find a recording of the training, held in September 2023.

 

Asset Management Video Resources

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We have over 200 videos on Asset Management in our Documents Database that provide valuable information on how to maintain and manage the equipment, buildings, land, personnel, and any other large, expensive components that are needed to deliver safe and clean water to utility customers. 

Below, we have featured three informative videos/ webinars that can be found in our database. However, if you are interested in looking through videos and webinars on other topics just select "TYPE" in the dropdown then choose "Videos." Once you make that selection, a second dropdown will appear where you can choose "CATEGORY" then select whatever topic you are interested in seeing videos or webinars about (the example image above shows "Asset Management" selected.) The last step is to click the "Retrieve Documents" button to see your results.  

Asset Management Overview

This short video from the WSU Environmental Finance Center provides an overview of asset management components and how they can be applied to fit your utility's needs. 

Asset Management 101 – Finding Financial Assistance for Infrastructure Upgrades

This 1 hour 30 minute U.S. EPA webinar recording from the Technical Assistance Webinar Series: Improving CWA-NPDES Permit Compliance, provides a high-level orientation to the core concepts of asset management, how to prioritize system needs, how to secure funding, what resources are available for small communities, and who to go to for help.

The speakers discuss case studies and highlight tools that small communities will find helpful in preparing long term plans and successfully implementing them. 

Asset Management Plans and the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF)

This webinar from U.S. EPA discusses the components of asset management plans, how State CWSRF programs are implementing them, and various incentives that borrowers receive for funding projects that include asset management plans. 

Septic System Contamination Risks

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Can a septic system contaminate a well?

Have you ever thought about where the water goes when you flush a toilet? If you have a septic system, this question may be more important than you think. Whether it is the largest advanced wastewater treatment plant in the world or the septic system in your back yard, all wastewater systems need regular maintenance. This will not only extend the life of your system, but it will also help prevent it from potentially contaminating the surface water and groundwater.

How does a septic system contaminate the surface water and groundwater?

Water from your toilets, showers, and other appliances contains harmful bacteria, viruses, and nutrients that could make you sick if it were to enter your well without being properly treated first. Maintenance issues like a full or cracked septic tank or a plugged drainfield can cause untreated wastewater to enter the surface water or groundwater.  
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the most serious documented problems involve contamination of surface waters and ground water with disease-causing pathogens and nitrates.

Let’s take a peek at a conventional septic system and see how contamination can occur:

Your House:

  • Most of the wastewater will generate from the kitchen and bathroom. Watch what you put down your drains. 
  • Remember the three P’s: poop, pee, and (toilet) paper. Those are the only things that should be flushed down a toilet. 
  • Avoid flushing other chemicals or medications down the drain or toilet as they could contaminate your well. 

Septic Tank: 

  • Wastewater exits the home through a pipe and enters the septic tank which is buried and watertight.
  • The solids settle at the bottom forming sludge, while fats, oils, and grease float to the top and form scum. Sludge is broken down by microorganisms that also destroy some of the contaminants in the wastewater. 
  • If a tank is leaking, contaminated wastewater will exit the tank before it is treated. A septic tank needs serviced and pumped on a regular basis to ensure it is working properly.

Drainfield: 

  • In your yard, a series of shallow trenches were placed to create the drainfield. The partially treated wastewater flows from the septic tank into the drainfield and slowly filters down through the soil until it reaches the groundwater.  
  • Overloading your drainfield with too much water or having it clogged with solids will cause sewage to surface in your yard or even back into your house.

Treatment in the Soil: 

  • Most bacteria, viruses, and some nutrients are removed when the wastewater filters through the soil.
  • Soil cannot remove all medicines, cleaning products, and other harmful chemicals, so they pose the risk of entering the groundwater. 
  • Wastewater that surfaces in the yard may contaminate your drinking water through an unsecured cap or cracks in the well casing.

Groundwater: 

  • Groundwater is water that is beneath the Earth’s surface and is held in the soil or in the pores and crevices of rocks. 
  • Any contaminants that remain after leaving the septic system may seep into the groundwater. 
  • The biggest risk for a well to become contaminated is if it is in the path of groundwater flow beneath a septic system.

Further Resources: