Mike Flenniken is staff writer, Marketing and Communications, for The IAPMO Group. Flenniken can be reached at [email protected].
In the four decades she has lived in Nome, Texas, Rose Anderson has never been able to drink the water that comes directly from her tap.
“I’ve been here about 39, 40 years,” Anderson said, “and we could never drink the water here. Never.”
Anderson is not alone. Water quality issues have long plagued the community of approximately 500 people. The issues were exacerbated when Hurricane Harvey damaged the city’s water treatment plant in August 2017 and made worse by recent winter storm conditions.
IWSH & UA Plumbers Local Union 68 Partner on “Safer Water for Nome”
Inspired by a student leadership initiative at nearby Hardin-Jefferson High School that sought to identify local water quality issues and potential solutions for them, The International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation (IWSH) and UA Plumbers Local Union 68 are teaming up to highlight and address those issues.
Thanks to their two-phase project, “Safer Water for Nome,” residents can have certified journeymen plumbers perform free water-quality risk assessments on their homes. IWSH and UA Local 68 will then work together on planning and providing corrective measures for the affected homes and local public amenities.
The project began in March 2021, with 25 journeymen plumbers — nine of whom are contractors — gaining certification in ASSE 12060/12061: Professional Qualifications Standard for Water Management and Infection Control Risk Assessment for Building Systems. The Houston Area Plumbing Joint Apprenticeship Committee (HAPJAC) hosted the training classes with a qualified instructor, and each participant took an ASSE International third party-administered examination.
“By educating and certifying our contractors and plumbers in water-quality risk-assessment programs, our contractors will lead the way in the southern industry,” said Jeremy Pavlich, director of marketing and recruiting at Plumbers Local 68. “We can be the go-to option — and help lead the way — so that public, industrial and residential communities have good water quality programs in place. This will give our area confidence that the plumbing industry is taking proactive measures to better their quality of life.”
UA Local 68 held a town hall meeting April 9 to educate residents about the pilot project and give them an opportunity to sign up for the free assessments. Pavlich led a discussion on water quality, infrastructure and programs available for residents.
“We will take feedback from citizens and information from anybody willing to take part in our free water assessment,” he said. “Then, we will actively get out to them — and come to their homes, their residences, their places of business — and give them a free assessment of their water, how it is, and possibly give them a good corrective measure on how we can fix this situation.”
“IWSH is such a valuable part of this coalition because of their influence on an international stage and the attention and resources they can bring to our small community,” Pavlich added.
Training Specialist Rich Benkowski and National Recruitment and Outreach Coordinator Laura Ceja, both with the UA Department of Education and Training, contributed to the project planning.
“Behaviors and techniques learned through the ASSE 12000 certification process deliver a repeatable and reliable method of risk assessment of all piped systems,” Ceja said. “This project illustrates a labor/management commitment of time and treasure to defend a community from unwelcome waterborne pathogens. We will also be coordinating tradeswomen and other diverse stakeholders and trades workers in the area, providing the expertise necessary to address any water-quality issues that arise.”
Pavlich, Benkowski and Ceja were joined — virtually and in-person — by IWSH and IAPMO Field Services representatives for the training at HAPJAC.
“Days of Action” Bring Water Quality Solutions to Nome Residents
So far, two rounds of assessments — referred to locally as “Days of Action” — have taken place. The first round held April 17 consisted of seven homes and were for residents who signed up at the town hall meeting. On May 1, nine additional assessments were performed; these were requested after the initial round.
Ashley Behn also had an assessment done on the water coming into her family’s home.
“I’m hoping to find out just how safe or unsafe it is,” she said. “We cook a lot; oftentimes we use water from the sink, and
I want to know if that’s OK or not.”
She said she would “absolutely” recommend that fellow Nome residents follow suit.
“I talked to Jeremy (Pavlich) and he got back to me really quickly, and we set up a time for an assessment,” she said. “They came in, did what they had to do and walked out. It was easy.”
“It was great to see elected officials and community come together to hear about the Risk Assessment Program and how we intend to implement it,” said IAPMO Field Services Manager John Mata, who participated in the certification process and the April 9 town hall meeting. “The collaborative work between the city of Nome, UA Plumbers Local 68 and IWSH depicted the commitment to making Nome’s water safe for its citizens.”
IWSH North American Projects Director Jed Scheuermann has overseen the project’s development.
“Risk assessments and sample testing reveal that Nome’s water situation is complex,” Scheuermann said. “Based on community action day one results, additional testing was done at five sites. All partners continue to cooperatively work toward the goal of making Nome’s water safer.”
Anderson looks forward to the day when drinking water directly from the tap will be safe for her family.
“It’s bad enough we have to cook with it; you have to boil it first before you can cook with it, or we use bottled water,” she said.
“I think it’s amazing,” Pounders said. “I think it’s really wonderful to know that somebody’s looking out for communities with their water.”
Follow IWSH social media channels for updates from the “Safer Water for Nome” pilot project (#SaferWater). Visit www.plu68.com to learn more about UA Plumbers Local Union 68. Visit www.iwsh.org for more information on The International Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Foundation.