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When North Miami Beach published its water quality report earlier this year, Kelvin Baker, the city's Public Services director, expected good reviews and comments from the community. What he didn't expect was an award from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Yet on Dec. 3, the South Florida EPA director will present an award to North Miami Beach city officials for its water quality report.
"We've worked hard at developing so many educational programs for our water customers," said Baker. "We're honored that the EPA recognized us for our water quality report and calendar."
More commonly called the Consumer Confidence Report, city staff incorporated the report in a 12-month calendar and won EPA's award in the large ground water utility category.
James D. Giattina, director of EPA's Water Management Division based in Atlanta said: "This award program is unique to Region 4 and provides us an opportunity to recognize water systems that comply with the Consumer Confidence Rule [by providing] their consumers with an accurate and concise report. [North Miami Beach's] 2001 CCR report not only met all of the state and federal requirements, but was an exceptional model for other public water systems to follow!"
Innovation, though, is the driving force behind Baker's decision to develop the report into something more than just required text.
The EPA awarded six utilities in all for the categories of small, medium and large ground and surface water systems.
"There are specific criteria that must be met in order to compete in this award program," said Giattina, "such as providing source of drinking water and common name, compliance information on detected and non-detected drinking water contaminants, educational statement for vulnerable populations (immune deficient and HIV patients), health effects language, source water assessment information, and compliance with federal and state drinking water standards."
EPA officials said the department scored high on its outreach and education programs - the calendar lists 12 separate services offered to the public - and properly following federal mandates for reporting technical data to consumers.
EPA Secretary David Struhs writes in a letter to Baker, "Winning the award demonstrates that your system is a leader in complying with the federal and state CCR regulations, which require that community water systems inform the public about their water system and their water quality. Also, through the award process, your water system has provided a notable level of community outreach and education activity...your excellent CCR...can serve as an example for other water systems."
Customers say it's packed with information.
"It was informative. The report answered my questions about the utility department," said Lois Smith, a Biscayne Gardens water customer. "Since we pay for these services, we have the right to be informed."
Waverly Robinson, a Washington Park resident, said, "The services are good and the water tastes good too. The bottle water program serves my community well."
Drinking water quality and educational programs for water customers were the focus for the city's award-winning report. The 12-month calendar describes programs and events such as NMB WaterFest, a musical concert for youths to learn about protecting the environment, the city's bottled water program, teacher workshops, customer surveys, water conservation, workshops for the community and the department's Showerhead Exchange program. The calendar also features the winners from this year's water conservation poster contest, and a caricature named "Tommy the Test Tube" who offers monthly facts about what makes tap water taste good.
"Most utilities use an outside agency to develop their reports," said Baker. "We believe that we have a closer relationship with our customer than any outside agency and we know what messages are very important to them. The Consumer Confidence Report is viewed by many to be a very technical document, only understood by those within the industry. We believe that this format has allowed us to present a very technical information in a manner that is easy to understand and less intimidating."
The U.S. EPA mandated the water quality report under the 1996 Drinking Water Act. That mandate requires public water utilities to disclose information on the quality of tap water to its consumers. The report provides information on substances found in drinking water, where the substance originated and certain health related information.
"Our goal at the city is to provide the highest quality of drinking water to our customers and also offer informative reports which reflect quality," said Gary Brown, city manager. "This recognition certainly reinforces that resolve."