2008 Mid-Year Review

As 2008 progresses, the water industry is shifting increasingly into the public eye. The discovery of pharmaceuticals in drinking water brought scrutiny to the industry. In some regions, intense floods highlighted the importance of secure infrastructure, while in other areas droughts highlighted the importance of reuse and conservation.

The following is a mid-year update of current events, regulation and certification affecting the industry in 2008.

Industry Issues

So far, 2008 has been marked by legislative challenges to the industry. In turn, the industry has responded with associations like the Water Quality Association (WQA) leading the way.

Softener bans: Opposition to water softeners based on concern over brine discharge is not new, but increased resistance has brought the issue to the forefront.

California Assembly Bill 2270, currently making its way through the state legislature, would allow residential water softener bans by local ordinance based on findings at a public hearing that the control of residential salinity input would contribute to the achievement of water quality objectives.

This differs from the current legislation, which allows for softener bans but requires municipalities to make comprehensive environmental assessments to document other contributors to the waste stream as well as the amount of salt contributed by residential softeners.

The Phoenix Challenge: The Phoenix Challenge is a WQA initiative designed with the goal of developing and improving technologies that will reduce brine discharge and water consumption from water softeners. The project will help fight potential bans on water softeners while improving technology and water quality.

Septic system issues: The effect of softener regeneration discharge on onsite septic systems is also a hot topic in the industry this year. A collaborative effort between water professionals, county and state officials and associations resulted in a pilot study surveying septic tanks with and without water softeners in a North Carolina subdivision last summer.

The survey consisted of taking samples and making observations at 13 homes in Orange County, N.C. Although no conclusive results were obtained, the samples were helpful in the goal of the survey, which was to develop a protocol for further research, according to Nancy Deal, extension associate with the North Carolina State University’s Department of Soil Science, who assisted in the study.

In the News

Bottled Water: Bottled water consumption is again on the rise in the U.S., with volume surpassing 8.8 billion gal, a 6.9% increase over the volume level of 2006, according to the Beverage Marketing Corp. Per capita bottled water consumption has been growing by at least a gallon per year, more than doubling in a decade.

As concern for the environment grows, bottled water taxes have been implemented in Chicago and proposed in Hawaii. Bottlers have been responding to such opposition with publicity campaigns promoting recycling programs and a variety of environmentally friendly initiatives that range from redesigning bottles to adopting more efficient bottling and transportation methods.

Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water: An Associated Press (AP) investigation discovered an array of pharmaceuticals in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans. Among the substances found were antibiotics, anticonvulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones.

The AP discovered over the course of a five-month inquiry that prescription drugs have been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 metropolitan areas. Many scientists are skeptical that trace concentrations will ultimately prove to be harmful to humans.

Several groups are coming together to discuss pharmaceuticals in water. On March 20, NSF Intl. hosted a joint committee meeting to address this issue. The joint committee is now in the process of setting up a task group to further research the status of pharmaceuticals in water.

Certification Updates

California Waterworks Standards: The revised California Waterworks Standards now require NSF/ANSI Standard 61 certification for all drinking water treatment and distribution products used by public water systems. The Waterworks Standards provide criteria for the design, construction and operation of public water systems.

Product certification to NSF/ANSI Standard 60 has been required in the California Waterworks Standards since 1994. California is the first state to require all treatment chemicals to be tested on an annual basis by an ANSI-accredited certification organization.

Certification of drinking water treatment and distribution equipment to NSF/ANSI Standard 61 was not formally required in state regulations, although it has been specified by many California water utilities for several years.

WQA Gold Seal: The WQA Gold Seal program is currently working with the WQA’s retail section on the development of a “green” certification program. The program would include carbon footprinting and water saving parameters, according to Thomas Palkon, director of product certification for the WQA.

NSF: NSF recently launched a new Beverage Quality Certification Program. The program expands the scope of NSF’s bottled water program to test, audit and certify natural mineral waters, flavored and functional beverages.

UL: Underwriters Laboratory (UL) recently announced its new Water QualityCheck program, which will better enable managers of public or private facilities to identify and assess risks associated with drinking water quality.

The Water QualityCheck program specifically monitors and tests for biological and chemical contaminants in a facility’s water supply that may have been previously overlooked. Currently, the Safe Water Drinking Act does not regulate for contaminants in a municipal water supply as it comes through a service line to a building and into the tap. UL’s Water QualityCheck program will help facility owners better manage this gap.

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About the author

Rebecca Wilhelm is assistant editor for Water Quality Products. Wilhelm can be reached at 847.954.7958 or by e-mail at [email protected]