As a facility manager, you have myriad responsibilities on your plate. There are numerous health and safety efforts to handle, and safe drinking water is high on that list. As opposed to an observable physical issue that needs maintenance, water quality is something that is usually invisible, yet still requires proper monitoring.
For information purposes, it is helpful to know about the different sources of water for your facility. There is surface water, which is gathered from rivers, lakes, oceans and other related sources; and there is also groundwater, which comes from drilling underground. Both water sources are typically treated with chemicals, but there can still be inherent risks.
Recently there has been greater scrutiny and public interest in water quality in light of Flint, Michigan’s water crisis. High levels of lead were found in the drinking water in Flint, due in part to old water pipes. (For reference, see CNN’s overview of the Flint water crisis.) There have been several other drinking-water issues reported through the EPA and news outlets. For example, Michigan also dealt with an outbreak of Legionnaires' disease connected to water in hospitals. Maine is looking into infrastructure issues that may impact public works water. These types of findings are highlighted through a water and waste water infrastructure report from the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).
It is necessary to know the regulatory requirements and what you can do to ensure safe drinking water at your facility. Risks include lead in the pipes, as well as exposure to bacteria.
Let’s take a look at what is immediately available to help with water-quality efforts. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) protects public drinking water. The SDWA established drinking-water standards and offers several programs aimed at maintaining safe drinking water. As part of the act, the EPA established the National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC), which provides advice and recommendations to the EPA. There are several resources available from the EPA, including drinking-water regulations involving contaminants.
There is also the Clean Water Act, which regulates the release of contaminants in water. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) website has several other resources related to drinking water and the prevention of spreading diseases. For example, the CDC has a top-10 list of causes of outbreaks in public water systems to shed light on prevention efforts. Lead can be a major issue with respect to water safety, since it can have particularly harmful effects on people’s health. That is why the EPA has established that there should be zero lead contaminants in drinking water. The EPA has Surface Water Treatment Rules (SWTRs) to prevent pathogens (Legionnaires disease and intestinal infections) from getting into drinking water. These can be prevented by filtering water and disinfecting drinking areas. Places that have a groundwater source may have additional risks from disease-causing micro-organisms.
Now let’s examine the challenges ahead.
Maintaining safe drinking water is critical. Pipes can rust, contaminants may develop and other issues could arise to affect the quality of drinking water. It is important to plan ahead for maintenance, keep up-to-date on water-quality regulations and regularly test the water. Contaminants can be microbial and also chemical (arsenic, lead, radionuclides).
In terms of maintenance, check to see when the water pipes were last monitored, as well as if and when infrastructure updates are needed. Also, think about any other ongoing construction efforts or improvement projects that might impact the drinking water. Water fountains should be cleaned regularly with disinfectant, which will help reduce the spread of bacteria.
Also, be sure to routinely check with local, state and federal regulators with respect to your facility industry. Other sources include the U.S. General Services Administration, the National Drinking Water Alliance, the Water Quality Association, and the ASCE – mentioned earlier. These types of sources have insights on managing standards and additional information on water management guidance. There are more industry-specific sources, such as the American Hospital Association (AHA), ASTM International for the manufacturing industry, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the EPA’s resources for schools and childcare facilities.
Routinely test the drinking water with available testing kits, and track your findings with thorough record keeping. Develop a schedule to check water faucets and drinking fountains on a regular basis, which will help identify and address issues as they occur.
Additionally, it is important to plan ahead for any impact on the water supply, such as droughts or natural disasters, as alternative sources and bottled water may serve as temporary relief. For example, facilities in regions with a high risk of tornadoes or earthquakes should have preparedness plans in place that ensure safe drinking water. Many facilities in California are also taking precautions to conserve water usage, which is crucial during droughts.
To sum up, it’s vital that you remain diligent in your efforts to maintain water safety in terms of regulations and continual testing. Also, make sure you plan ahead for any disruptions or challenges that will require alternative water sources to be readily available — and safe to use.