OpEd

Story published: 01-22-2013 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Privileged with safe, tasty water

By Frances Lamberts

Thanks to national laws such as the Safe Drinking Water Act, we enjoy clean drinking water.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1999 identified control of infectious diseases through water treatment as one of the 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.

In other places, lacking “washing” as Wilma Dykeman referred to its treatment, dirty water is the No. 1 cause of mortality. Somewhere in the world a child dies of a waterborne disease every eight seconds, because clean water is not available.

Not alone among public utilities, Jonesborough has had to work hard over the years, upgrading treatment methods and equipment to deliver high-quality water to our homes.

Partly, the continual effort is driven by new regulations, as new contaminant sources in water have come to light.

Chlorine-based disinfection had been highly effective. It virtually eliminated typhoid, cholera and other waterborne diseases in developed countries.

Even in the 1970s, though, research in the U.S. had shown it to interact with natural organic matter in water, forming byproducts that might cause cancer and other maladies over long exposures. Since the contaminant substances can be absorbed through the skin, and inhaled as well as ingested in drinking water, a regulatory remedy was needed.

Consistent with its charge of public health protection, the Environmental Protection Agency, in 1979, established maximum allowable limits for two of the groups of chemicals involved.

In line with its practice (and mandate) of rigorous and extensive research in any rulemaking, it worked with more than 700 utilities through the ‘80s, surveying the occurrence of the chlorine by-products contaminants.

In 1992, according to a (2010) Water Research Foundation report, a staged introduction of several anticipated new rules was “negotiated [by the] EPA, water utilities, consumer advocates and other interested parties.”

Under the Clinton administration in 1998, a Stage 1 rule (for disinfection byproducts) was implemented, applicable to all community and noncommunity water systems, along with another rule to reduce microbial contamination. A Stage 2 follow-up rule, which a Federal Advisory Committee process deemed justified to deal with the cancer concerns, particularly, was implemented under the Bush administration, in 2006.

Fully and consistently meeting the requirements of new regulations is a great challenge for many water systems. The Foundation cites more than 1,000 of them reporting some violations of the new rule in 2005-2010, while only 60 had trouble over that time complying with earlier regulations.

To become perfect takes time and practice, and persistence, skill and dedication by plant workers. In Jonesborough, appreciation, too, from the customers, for consistently safe and good-tasting water is well deserved.

Add to that the very attractive savings: as Maude Barlow, author of several books on water matters documents, the recommended eight glasses of tap water a day will cost you around $2 over a year. The equivalent amount of bottled water costs $2,190.