Clean Water Close to Home

The water treatment industry seems to be full of new ideas about how to treat water in innovative ways. NPR reported that UNICEF is promoting a machine developed by Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology and HVR that turns sweat into drinking water by filtering the drippings squeezed from clothes. In answer to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s “Reinvent the Toilet” competition, researchers at Duke have developed a new toilet, complete with a self-contained waste recycling system, that transforms wastewater into drinking water. And earlier this year, Peru’s Universidad de Ingenierìa & Tecnologìa introduced a billboard that uses the humidity in the air to produce drinking water for the country’s desert region.

One thing that all of these inventions have in common is their aim to provide water to developing regions or countries. While this is certainly an overwhelmingly worthy cause — millions around the world still lack access to clean drinking water, leading to death and disease — it is important to remember that there are people right here in the U.S. who also lack access to safe drinking water sources.

This issue is especially poignant in California in light of reports that the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) failed to distribute $455 million in federal funds meant for drinking water projects. The Sacramento Bee reported that many communities desperately need these funds. A school that has relied on bottled water for a decade and two towns with such high contaminant levels that water is undrinkable were just two examples cited in the article, but the number of communities in need is staggering: The DPH website lists 5,000 “priority projects” which will require an estimated $12.1 billion to complete.

The situation in California has been recognized and is being addressed. According to the Bee, earlier this year the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reprimanded DPH’s lack of action. DPH submitted a plan of improvements it intends to make so that it can distribute the funds more efficiently, and EPA approved the plan in July.

The quest for clean water has spread to the other 49 states as well, and thankfully there are organizations that have taken notice. One such organization, the Water Well Trust, builds wells for low-income families in need of a safe water source. Although a relatively new charity, the Water Well Trust has already completed projects in several states. One project in Midgeville, Ga., aided three families whose wells had become contaminated, and another in Rogers, Ark., helped six families who had been hauling water in for more than 15 years. In both cases, the cost of extending city water lines to the homes was prohibitive, so the Water Well Trust was able to help finance the building of new wells to provide easier access to safe water.

Stories like these are a reminder that access to clean water is an issue that hits close to home — it is truly a worldwide issue, and that includes both the developing and developed world. But between the many organizations working toward providing safe water and the exciting innovations being developed, the goal of clean water for all may be within reach.

A Teaching Moment

A Teaching Moment:
I often watch the birds come to our bird feeder which my wife keeps brimming with food all year long. Last winter we went away for two weeks and no one filled the bird feeder. We came back and for two more weeks or so had no birds in the yard or at the feeder. Then slowly they returned to feed. My wife wondered why? I reminded her of the old adage about "giving a person fish to eat or giving them a fishing rod and teaching them to fish for themselves'. Clearly, our seemingly innocuous humanitarian efforts to feed the birds forced them to leave and fend for themselves or to die during our absence.
I hope all these water systems and technologies that are being given away are teaching people to be self-reliant and not reliant on free hand-outs. Because as can be seen in the new “Give Away” American mentality of the Socialist Obama Administration people like birds will take until they are forced to fend for themselves.
Survival of any organism which includes "Homo sapiens" (Latin for "Wise Man") is directly proportional to individual effort and desire. Remove the motivation to succeed and all feel good efforts and dreams of "do gooders" will result in the demise of the species. Just something to consider before it is too late and there is no “wise man” left to feed the birds.

Re: A Teaching Moment

This is a very important point! As with any type of charity, I think there are effective organizations and ineffective ones. From what I've read, many of the charities that help bring clean water to undeveloped areas do make the effort to teach the local people not only how to maintain the systems that have been installed, but also sanitation and hygiene practices. We even covered one such effort in this issue of WQP ( In this case, the project team helped to select two members of the local community to become experts on the filtration systems they were building so that they could maintain them on their own. The article describes how one of them was able to resolve a problem that was perplexing even the system's designers.

I also have read about some organizations that require users of the pumping or water treatment systems to pay a small nominal fee per gallon - this helps to not only give the local community ownership of the system, but provides funds that will help maintain the system.

- Kate Cline, WQP Managing Editor

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About the author

Kate Cline is managing editor of Water Quality Products. Cline can be reached at [email protected] or 847.391.1007.