Mar 30, 2017

Tallying the Tap

As the U.S. continues to see water contamination issues in headlines, the public demands information. Using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database, FluksAqua, an online community for water and wastewater professionals, published an infographic that reveals the total number of health-based drinking water violations in the U.S. and tallies the total gallons of water supplied for public use in real time. WQP Assistant Editor Lauren Baltas spoke with Hubert Colas, president of the Americas for FluksAqua, about what this information means, not only for the water industry, but also for the general public.

Lauren Baltas: What practical purpose does the infographic serve?

Hubert Colas: Drinking water quality is an important subject to public health, as well as to support our economy. Too often, the public takes water supply for granted. We expect service 24/7/365 without interruption—open the tap and take a glass of water, everywhere in the U.S. There is a lot of work going on behind this service, and the public is unaware of this.

Our heroes are the water and wastewater utility personnel [who] deliver water and wastewater services. Their work is unknown and has been for too long.

We live in an open world now, and we have access to a lot of data. We at FluksAqua want to take advantage of the connected world to improve water management.

By publishing data on water quality, we want to show:

  • The large majority of the population and water systems have experienced no violations in the year 2015.
  • There is a complex system of regulations, tests, verifications and procedures in place in order to protect the quality of the water being distributed for human consumption.
  • If the majority of the systems do good work, some are less fortunate and have more difficulty in meeting water quality limits. Others may be laggards, and the public should know why in order to help find long-lasting solutions they can afford.
  • The public should be aware of the quality of the water they drink and use daily. They should be thankful for the tremendous work water utilities do day in and day out for their wellbeing. And if the quality is not to standards, they should make their voices heard and push for better service.

Baltas: Who is the intended audience for this information?

Colas: The intended audience for the infographic is the citizens of the U.S.—the concerned public. It also is the whole water industry, to show that by opening up, it will benefit from a better image with more support from the public and their representatives.

Baltas: What other trends correlate with drinking water violations?

Colas: We are currently analyzing the data in more details in order to extract some trends. We will publish data on this subject.

Baltas: Despite the negativity of the health-based drinking water violations, what positive takeaways do the data share?

Colas: Our data show that 7% of the water systems had at least one violation in 2015. That means 93% had none.

The total population affected is in the same order of distribution. That should be comforting for the public; albeit we do not represent all potential health threats, just the big majority.

Baltas: How can residents stay informed about health-based drinking water violations?

Colas: The ECHO database is online and can be consulted by everyone. EPA has water quality violations data available to everyone, but this is almost unknown.

[FluksAqua] intends to continue to study the public data and publish our findings regularly. In particular, we will be working to update the health-based drinking water violations regularly.

We also have a benchmark on our website, where we provide data on water losses and water quality for use by industry professionals. 

About the author

Hubert Colas, Ph.D., is president of the Americas for FluksAqua. Colas can be reached at [email protected].

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