New Law Affects Small Community Water Systems

Effective October 1, 2018, Connecticut’s Department of Public Health (DPH) is requiring all small community water systems to complete Fiscal and Asset Management Plans by January 1, 2021 and update them annually. This new law effects small water companies that regularly serve communities of at least 25 but not more than 1,000 year-round residents.

The Fiscal and Asset Management Plan must include:

  1. A list of all the system’s capital assets;
  2. The asset’s (a) useful life, based on their current condition, (b) maintenance and service history, and (c) manufacturer’s recommendation;
  3. The small community water system’s plan for reconditioning, refurbishing, or replacing the assets; and
  4. Information on (a) whether the small community water system has any unaccounted-for water loss (i.e., water supplied to its distribution system that never reached consumers), (b) the amount and cause of such unaccounted-for water loss, and (c) measures the system is taking to reduce it.

Under the new law, each small community water system must also complete an initial assessment review of its hydropneumatic pressure tanks by May 2, 2019 on a form developed by the DPH.

Failure to complete or update their fiscal and asset management plans on or before January 1, 2021 maybe subject to civil penalties by DPH.

Compliance Concerns?

Tata & Howard has extensive experience with all facets of asset management planning and programming. Our services focus on condition assessment and analyses of critical capital assets, as well as operational evaluations, water audits to reduce unaccounted-for water, and long-term capital planning.  Initial hydropneumatic pressure tank inspections can be also be performed in time to comply with the DPH deadline of May 2, 2019.

In addition, Tata & Howard can help secure financing through grants, such as those available through the USDA Rural Development Water and Environmental Program.

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Asset Management

Tata & Howard has assisted numerous Water Companies with their Asset Management Planning.  Please contact us for more information.

PFAS – Emerging Contaminants in Drinking Water

Health Advisory Guidelines for Per- and polyfluoroalkyl Substances Detected in Public Water Systems

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP) announced in early June, and through the Office of Research and Standards (ORS), its recommendations on the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule 3 (UCMR 3) for emerging contaminants-specifically Perflourinated Alkyl Substances (PFAS).

PFAS or Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances are a group of man-made compounds that include perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perffluorohexane sulfonate (PFHxS), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), perflouroheptanoic acid (PFHpA), and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS).

US map of PFASAccording the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), all these UCMR 3 PFAS compounds have been detected in public water supplies across the US. Since PFAS are considered emerging contaminants, there are currently no established regulatory limits for levels in drinking water. However, in 2016, the EPA set Health Advisory levels (HA) of 0.07 micrograms per liter (µg/L) or 70 parts per trillion (ppt) for the combined concentrations of two PFAS compounds, PFOS and PFOA.

MassDEP’s ORS established drinking water guidelines that follows the EPA’s recommendations for health advisory levels at 70 ppt, which applies to the sum total of five PFAS chemicals – PFOS, PFOA, PFNA, PFHXS, and PFHpA.  And, if the level of contamination poses unacceptable health risks to its customers, Public Water Systems (PWS) must take action to achieve safe levels. They also must provide public notice.

The EPA and MassDEP’s recommended guidelines for PFAS include:

  • Public Water Suppliers take immediate action to reduce levels of the five PFAS to be below 70 ppt for all consumers.
  • Susceptible health-risk groups (pregnant women, infants, and nursing mothers) should stop consuming water when the level is above 70 ppt.
  • Public Water Systems must provide a public Health Advisory notice.

Water testingThe EPA also recommends that treatment be implemented for all five PFAS when one or more of these compounds are present.

Although, PFAS are no longer manufactured in the United States, PFAS are still produced internationally and can be imported in to the country1.  PFAS have been in use since the 1940’s and are persistent chemicals that don’t breakdown, accumulate over time in the environment and in the human body.  Evidence shows that prolonged exposure PFAS can have adverse effects on human health and the ecology.

PFAS can be found in:

  • Agricultural products grown in PFAS-contaminated soil or water, and/or handled with PFAS-containing equipment and materials.
  • Drinking water contaminated from chemical groundwater pollution from stormwater runoff near landfills, wastewater treatment plants, and firefighter training facilities2.
  • Household products, including nonstick products (e.g., Teflon), polishes, waxes, paints, cleaning products, and stain and water-repellent fabrics.
  • Firefighting foams2, which is a major source of groundwater contamination at airports and military bases where firefighting training occurs.
  • Industrial facilities that manufactured chrome plating, electronics, and oil recovery that use PFAS.
  • Environmental contamination where PFAS have built-up and persisted over time – including in fish, animals and humans.

While most states are relying on the EPA’s Health Advisory levels (including Massachusetts), some, such as Connecticut, Minnesota, New Jersey, Arizona, and Colorado have addressed other UCMR 3 PFAS pollutants as well.

Boy drinking waterMost research on the effects of PFAS on human health is based on animal studies. And, although there is no conclusive evidence that PFAS cause cancer, animal studies have shown there are possible links. However, PFAS ill-health effects are associated with changes in thyroid, kidney and liver function, as well as affects to the immune system.  These chemicals have also caused fetal development effects during pregnancy and low birth weights.

PFAS are found at low levels throughout our environment—in foods we consume and in household products we use daily. PFAS in drinking water at levels higher than the EPA’s recommendations does not necessarily mean health risks are likely. Routine showering and bathing are not considered significant sources of exposure. And, while it is nearly impossible to eliminate all exposure to these chemicals, the risk for adverse health effects would likely be of concern if an individual continuously consumed higher levels of PFAS than the guidelines established by the EPA’s Health Advisory.

MassDEP is continuing its research and testing for PFAS in Public Water Systems.  Large Public Drinking Water Systems have already been tested and sampling indicated that approximately 3% had levels of PFAS detected. MassDEP is currently working with smaller Public Water Systems to identify areas where PFAS may have been used or discharged to the environment.

As more information and regulations develop on this emerging contaminant, MassDEP will continue to communicate their findings. Tata & Howard is also available for any questions that may arise, as well as, assist with testing and recommend treatment options for our clients.


1 In 2006, the EPA and the PFA industry formed the PFOA Stewardship program to end the production of PFAs.

2 MassDEP in partnership with the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services (MassDFS), announced in May a take-back program to remove hazardous pre-2003 firefighting foam stockpiles and be neutralized. Manufacturers stopped making PFAS foam in 2002 and have since developed fluorine-free and more fluorine stable foams that are safer to the environment.

Hurricanes and Water Quality

The United States is currently in the midst of hurricane season, which runs from June 1 – November 30. With the threat of hurricanes, such as Hurricane Matthew, come concerns over flooding, property damage, and power outages. In addition, falling trees and debris, broken but live electrical wires, and areas of flooding pose a major threat to human safety. However, there is another significant but often overlooked threat to human health that frequently occurs during hurricanes: water quality degradation.

Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey and caused serious water quality issues
Hurricane Sandy devastated New Jersey and caused serious water quality issues

Hurricanes typically bring with them massive amounts of precipitation – far more than the earth can handle. These surges create giant runoff situations, where pollution, contaminants, trash, and chemicals from the ground are pushed into the local water supply. To make matters worse, water treatment plants are often not able to handle the sudden, significant increase in contaminants, and also may not be working at full capacity due to power outages. This flooding also affects water mains and household lines, sometimes causing the water to bypass water treatment altogether.

But that’s not all. The pounding rain and storm surges brought by hurricanes can also overwhelm sewer systems, causing sewage overflows. The massive flooding of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 overwhelmed the region’s wastewater treatment plants, causing 11 billion gallons of largely untreated sewage to flow into waterways and city streets, mostly in New York City and New Jersey. In addition, the pounding surge caused significant damage to treatment plants, further complicating the issue, and contaminating water supplies.

Lastly, overwhelming amounts of rain and surge as seen with hurricanes can cause excessive amounts of dissolved organic matter (DOM) — soluble organic materials composed of the remains of organisms such as plants and animals and their waste products — to enter waterways. DOM causes a plethora of problems in drinking water: it easily binds with metal pollutants and carries them to reservoirs and lakes, it blocks pathogen-reducing ultraviolet rays, and it also enhances the formation of disinfection byproducts, which are carcinogenic.

T&H employee-owners show their preference for drinking municipal tap water over bottled water
T&H employee-owners show their strong preference for drinking municipal tap water over bottled water

Hurricanes clearly have the ability to not only damage personal property and threaten human safety, but also wreak havoc on our nation’s water supply. The combination of increased contamination, decreased treatment, overflowing sewer systems, and excessive DOM in the water has the potential to cause serious water quality issues. Therefore, during hurricane events, it is always smart to be prepared. Prior to the storm, stock up on bottled water. While municipal water should always be the drink of choice in normal day-to-day living since bottled water has its own set of problems, the safe choice when water quality issues arise as a result of a hurricane is bottled water. After the storm, check on the status of your area’s water quality. Until the authorities give your local municipal water the all clear, stick to bottled water for drinking.

For up-to-the-minute updates on Hurricane Matthew, please visit And stay safe!

The Water-Energy Nexus: A Vicious Cycle

Water and energy are the two most fundamental ingredients of modern civilization. The water-energy nexus is the relationship between how much water is evaporated to generate and transmit energy, and how much energy it takes to collect, clean, move, store, and dispose of water. Without water, people die. Without energy, we cannot grow food, run computers, or power homes, schools, or offices. As the world’s population grows in number and affluence, the demands for both resources are increasing faster than ever.

The Water-Energy Connection

Energy production is the second largest consumer of water, the first being agriculture. Electric power plants that are fueled by oil, coal, natural gas, or nuclear power require exorbitant amounts of water to cool them, and hydropower plants require water to create energy. Likewise, a significant amount of energy is used in the pumping, treatment, and distribution of water, as well as in the collection, treatment, and disposal of wastewater. In addition, the extraction of fossil fuels used for heating and cooling homes also requires vast amounts of water. Clearly, the relationship between energy and water is inexorably intertwined.

Byron Nuclear Generating Station, located near the small city of Byron, Illinois, has been subject to some controversy with respect to a lawsuit in 1981 with concerns over tritium contamination in groundwater. Tritium contamination at Byron and other Illinois nuclear power plants led the state of Illinois to pass legislation requiring plants to report such contamination to the state within 24 hours.

As the population and affluence of the nation continues to increase, so does the demand for both water and energy. Also, climate change has been responsible for increasingly frequent water shortages, requiring communities to find water elsewhere – which requires even more energy. Pumping water from distant areas or glacial icecaps, desalinating ocean water, and highly treating wastewater to potable standards all require exorbitant amounts of energy. Previously, these methods for obtaining potable water were ignored due to their high energy usage. But as water shortages and drought continue to plague the nation, even affecting the historically wet northeast part of the country, more creative ways of meeting the nation’s demand for water must be innovated and implemented.

Likewise, fossil fuels such as oil and gas are being withdrawn at an unsustainable rate, and supplies are dwindling. As these inexpensive energy sources are depleted, our dependence on alternate, more water-intensive sources of energy increases. This endless cycle of water-energy usage has the potential to spiral out of control, and the only way to make a real and lasting change is for policy makers, businesses, and communities to join forces in the planning, management, and conservation of resources and in the innovation of sustainable solutions.

Planning and Management

Many U.S. aquifers span several states
Many U.S. aquifers span several states; map courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey

One of the key factors to a sustainable future is communication. In the United States, there is little overlap in governmental agencies when it comes to water and energy. The Department of Energy has been an entity since 1977, and yet our nation still does not have an agency dedicated solely to water planning. While the EPA oversees water quality and the U.S. Geological Survey collects and interprets data related to supply, there is no single federal agency that ensures the effective use of water. In fact, much of the onus of water management lies not with the federal government, but with state agencies and municipalities. This can prove problematic when aquifers or watersheds span multiple cities and town, or even states. A logical approach to water management would be a federal agency that oversees all aspects of water management, from quality to supply to usage. In this way, federal energy and water agencies could collaborate to help forge a sustainable future. For example, when a new power plant is proposed, discussions should take place on not only the siting and permitting of the new facility, but also the effect on air and water quality, as well as water usage and potential for scarcity. In this way, more focused attention on the usage and effects of both energy and water will lead to more holistic — and sustainable — installations.

Value and Conservation

One of the greatest concerns of the modern day American is the risk of running out of inexpensive oil. The cost of oil pushed gasoline prices to $4.48 per gallon in 2008, and was partially responsible for the great recession of 2009. Realizing that the end of cheap oil could spell economic disaster, many people have begun to look at alternate heating sources for their homes, and alternate means to power their vehicles, such as biofuels or electricity. But how much more disastrous would it be to run out of cheap water? Peak oil would admittedly cause economic difficulty as well as some amount of human hardship, but peak water has the potential to cause far direr consequences. Millions of people globally already die from lack of access to an improved water source, and peak water would increase that number exponentially.

Drip irrigation is far more water efficient than spraying
Drip irrigation is far more water efficient than spraying

It is critical that the value of water be realized if we are to start making real changes. Gasoline prices are currently around $2.20 per gallon, while a gallon of municipal water costs less than one penny. And yet, we can live without gasoline – we cannot live without water. As society begins to understand that procuring, treating, and distributing water is an expensive task and that supplies are limited, we can innovate technologies that reduce the amount of freshwater that we use. For example, in the western part of the country, the Ogallala aquifer is being depleted at a rate far higher than it is being replenished, and irrigation accounts for 94% of the groundwater withdrawals in that area. Switching to a more water efficient irrigation process such as drip irrigation rather than spray would save a significant amount of water. Also, utilizing reclaimed water for crop irrigation, cooling power plants, and industry would greatly reduce our groundwater withdrawals. Even at the residential level, conservation is important. Community outreach programs and educational materials can be used to teach residents how they can save water in their homes and businesses. Simple, low-cost initiatives such as mowing grass to a higher level, utilizing rain barrels, and planting native trees and plants can have a huge impact when implemented on a large scale.

And let’s not forget about energy. Energy conservation is directly linked to water conservation, and it is critical that saving energy happen at both the industrial and residential levels. All businesses should examine their energy efficiency and implement energy-saving initiatives. And businesses that utilize a lot of water, such as hospitals and hotels, should conduct water audits to examine and modify their water usage. Wastewater treatment should include technologies that create energy from waste, such as anaerobic digestion, in order to offset the energy used in treatment processes. Likewise, homeowners should be educated on the importance of saving energy. Utilizing energy efficient lighting, turning the heat down by a degree or two, and unplugging appliances, computers, and chargers that are not in use are just a few of the ways that the individual American can save energy. In addition, heating residential water uses a significant amount of energy, while solar water heating is a simple technology that is as inexpensive as it is effective and efficient. Unfortunately, it has not received any type of federal backing or media attention, and remains relatively unknown. Both education and policy are critical to the widespread implementation of energy saving initiatives.

In Conclusion

Energy and water are both precious resources that are critical to our health, our economy, and our way of life — and they are inextricably linked. Of the utmost importance is that we value water. Until water has a realistic price on it, as energy does, it will be seen as a resource that can be used and wasted at free will. Only with accurate pricing can the link between water and energy be made apparent to consumers, and that conserving water conserves energy, and vice versa. Likewise, with true pricing consumers would see that as the price of water increases, so does the price of energy, and that as the price of energy increases, so does the price of water. Feeling the effects in our pockets would increase the appearance of value, act as a strong motivator to more aggressive conservation, and would prompt the innovation and implementation of more efficient, green solutions.

Imagine a Day Without Water 2016

idww2016highdef2idww16_twitter_economyImagine a day without water. Nearly every single thing we do is reliant on water. Right at the start of our day, we would not be able to use the bathroom, take a shower, brush our teeth, or make a cup of coffee. There would be no cleaning dishes, mopping floors, or cooking food. Water is something we use constantly throughout the day without even thinking about it, and has therefore become something we take for granted. For that reason, Imagine a Day Without Water was first introduced in 2015 in order to bring awareness to the value of water.

Think about how frustrating it is when our internet or cell phone service is interrupted. Having no signal or losing WiFi on our laptops can grind work to a halt, as well as bring about headaches and aggravation — but it doesn’t actually affect our health or our lives. And yet, in America we pay approximately $50 per month for internet, $75 per month for our cell phone bill, and a whopping $100 for the luxury of cable television. Ironically, the average monthly water bill is only about $30, and people often bemoan the fact that the cost of water has been increasing in recent years. The reality is that providing safe, clean drinking water and treating our wastewater is extremely complicated – and costly.

idww16_twitter_mainsThink about the way water enters our homes and businesses, and of how our wastewater leaves it. There are literally thousands of pipes underground that we never see, and many of these pipes are approaching the end of their useful life. After all, most of our infrastructure was built around the time of World War II, and is now over 70 years old. In fact, much of the infrastructure in New England is well over 100 years old. These pipes and treatment plants are in desperate need of repair and replacement. In addition, our drinking water is treated to meet increasingly stringent regulations that protect our health. Bacteria, toxins, metals, and other harmful substances are all removed from the water prior to it entering the distribution system, and this treatment is expensive. In the same way, the wastewater that leaves our homes and businesses is highly treated and cleaned before it is returned to the environment, protecting public health from the myriad toxins and diseases found in untreated wastewater.

Failing pipes from our aging infrastructure also account for an astronomical amount of clean, treated drinking water that never reaches the consumer, and is never billed. This “lost” water comes at a staggering cost. To put it into perspective, the cost of this lost water is approximately $2.6 billion annually — which is approximately equivalent to the annual amount that the federal government allots to fund our water infrastructure — and the 1.7 trillion gallons of lost water is about the same amount of water needed to fully supply America’s ten largest cities.

idww16_twitter_droughtAnother challenge faced by utilities today is our growing national population combined with historic drought and climate change. This increased demand in the wake of a dwindling supply is placing extra pressure on our water and wastewater systems, and requires thoughtful, long-term solutions if we are going to be able to meet current and future demands. Add to that the recent focus on our nation’s lead service lines and the fact that they absolutely need to be replaced, and it becomes clear that our water and wastewater systems are in desperate need of attention — and investment.

Imagine a Day Without Water is a national movement that is looking to change the way we look at water, which is currently highly undervalued. It is by far the least expensive of all of our utilities, and yet it is the only one without which we cannot live. Consider that the cost to repair our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure will require an estimated investment of $4.8 trillion over the next 20 years, and it becomes apparent that the time to invest is now. The key to funding our nation’s water and wastewater systems is education and placing the proper value on water. It is crucial that legislators and ratepayers support utilities in their efforts to upgrade and replace infrastructure, to address the funding gap for these critical projects, and to acknowledge and address the water supply challenges that we currently are facing.

idww16_twitter_modernizeWe have reached the point where we must proactively address and invest in our nation’s water and wastewater infrastructure — before it is too late. Imagine a Day Without Water is a day in which we can all spread the word about the value of water by encouraging friends, family, and colleagues to imagine what their lives would be like without water. With proper planning and smart investment from both consumers and our legislators, living without water is something that will never come to fruition in our nation. Join the movement today by participating in Imagine a Day Without Water. For the many no-cost ways in which you can participate, including signing a petition, joining a Thunderclap, and becoming involved on social media, please visit

Back to School – Lead in Drinking Water of America’s Schools

Milford Water Company water main installation; design, construction administration, and resident observation by Tata & Howard
Milford Water Company water main installation; design, construction administration, and resident observation by Tata & Howard

By now, everyone has heard of the water crisis that occurred in Flint, Michigan when the City switched the source of its municipal water from the Detroit system to the Flint River in an effort to cut costs. Anti-corrosion chemicals were not added to the water, allowing lead to leach from the City’s aging pipes into the water supply. In the aftermath, hundreds of children suffered lead poisoning, officials were fired, arrests were made, and lawsuits were filed. And while the Flint disaster was arguably terrible and tragic, it has brought much-needed attention to the state of our nation’s infrastructure, and the criticality of maintaining and improving it.

Lead Service Lines in the United States

There are an estimated six million lead pipes remaining in use in the United States, utilized by over 11,000 water systems that serve nearly 22 million Americans, yet there is no federal plan in place to replace these lead service lines. Why? First, it would cost an exorbitant amount of money — roughly $30 billion — to replace every single remaining lead service line, money that utilities simply do not have. With failing infrastructure, dwindling budgets, more stringent regulatory requirements, and increased demand, utilities are doing everything they can simply to maintain service and compliance. To mitigate lead in drinking water, utilities that are unable to dig up all their lead service lines are instead treating water so that it forms a coating on the interior of the pipes. This coating serves as a protective barrier between the water and the lead pipes, preventing lead from leaching into the water supply. This methodology requires extreme vigilance, as water chemistry often changes, which can cause corrosion controls to fail. Fortunately, utilities regularly test their water for lead contamination, and on February 29, 2016, the EPA changed testing regulations to more accurately reflect the amount of lead in drinking water.

Lead in the Drinking Water of Public Schools

child_drinking_water_fountainWhile utilities are working diligently to keep our nation’s water lead-free, public schools have recently come under fire, as schools from cities across the nation — including Boston, Massachusetts; Ithaca, New York; Portland, Oregon; and Tacoma, Washington — have found lead in their drinking water above the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion. Surprisingly, this contamination is the result of a legal loophole that many states are looking to close: schools are mandated by the EPA to be connected to a water supply that is regularly tested for lead and other contaminants; however, these utilities are not typically required to actually test the water inside the schools themselves. Considering that the average age of a school in the United States is 44 years old, it should come as no surprise that there are elevated levels of lead in the drinking water of public schools. After all, lead pipes were legal until about 30 years ago, and faucets and fixtures were allowed to contain up to 8% lead until 2014.

Lead poisoning is particularly detrimental to school-aged children, and public outcry — largely as a result of Flint’s crisis — has spurred many schools to voluntarily test their water. The findings have been shocking to parents and educators, as school across the nation, from Maine to Washington state, are reporting lead levels above the EPA’s action level. Every day, another news story crops up with a report on elevated lead in a county’s school system, and it becomes apparent that our nation has a serious problem on its hands. Just as with water utilities, the ideal solution would be to replace all the lead pipes and fixtures in our nation’s schools, but again, funding for large-scale replacement just isn’t available. Instead, many schools have turned to lead filters, which work extremely well when maintained regularly.

Looking Ahead

water_test_leadMany states have introduced legislation this year that would require public schools to regularly test their water. Bills on the table in Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, and Rhode Island would require regular testing, as would a New York bill that takes it one step further by providing funding for said testing. In addition, the New York bill would require schools to notify parents and to provide an alternate supply of safe drinking water to students if elevated lead levels are found. In Massachusetts, all community water systems are required by Massachusetts drinking water regulations to collect lead and copper samples from at least two schools or early education and care program facilities that they serve in each sampling period, when they collect their Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) samples. In addition, in April of 2016, it was announced that $2 million from the Massachusetts Clean Water Trust (MCWT) will fund cooperative efforts to help Massachusetts public schools test for lead and copper in drinking water. The funds, to be used by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), will provide technical assistance to ensure that public school districts can sample the taps and water fountains in their schools, and to identify any results that show lead and copper contamination over the action level. On a federal level, legislation has been introduced to Congress that would requires states to assist schools with testing for lead; however, it does not provide funding.

In Conclusion

As long as lead service lines and plumbing remain in use in our nation, there remains a risk of lead contamination of our drinking water. Utilities, states, and schools are doing what they can to limit this risk as much as possible, but the only fail safe solution is full replacement of all lead service lines and fixtures — a massive undertaking that will require significant capital investment that is not currently available. Therefore, it is imperative that utilities and schools continue to remain vigilant about testing for and mitigating lead in drinking water, even after the public outcry from Flint has faded.

Water Crisis in the United States, Part 3: Lead in Drinking Water

24234972202_550138a446_o-300x202Part three of our four-part series on water crises in America is on lead contamination. Instances of lead in drinking water, such as the situation in Flint, Michigan, have become a hot topic in the media. Lead in drinking water is a problem that reaches far beyond the disaster in Flint, with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stating that roughly 10 million American homes and buildings still receive water from service lines that are at least partially lead. When water has high acidity or low mineral content, it can cause these service lines to corrode and leach lead into the water supply. Without mitigation, water from lead service lines has the potential to cause adverse health effects, particularly in children.

The EPA states that, in the last three years, only nine U.S. states are reporting safe levels of lead in their drinking water. These include Alabama, Arkansas, Hawaii, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Tennessee. This means that 41 states are consistently reporting higher than acceptable levels of lead in their drinking water. The problem is not only the lead service lines connecting water mains to homes and buildings, but also the lack of proper treatment to prevent corrosion of these lead pipes.

History of Lead Pipes in the U.S.

Residents of Flint, Lead solder holding pipes together can also contaminate the water that passes through your system.
Lead solder holding pipes together can also contaminate the water that passes through your system.

The use of lead pipes for water distribution has a centuries-old history. In the U.S., installation of lead pipes on a major scale began in the late 1800s, particularly in the larger cities. At one point, more than 70% of cities with populations greater than 30,000 used lead water lines. Lead pipes had two significant advantages over iron: they lasted almost twice as long and they were malleable enough to easily bend around existing structures. Of course, now we see the health risks associated with lead, and water systems across the country have taken steps to eliminate lead pipes in their distribution systems. Water companies and municipalities now must decide whether to replace all the lead pipe in their drinking water system, including home service lines on private property, or continue to add corrosion-control chemicals at the plant to prevent leaching of lead into the water supply.

Utilities and the Government Take Action

Water companies and municipalities across the country are working diligently to get lead out of our drinking water. Since replacing all of our nation’s lead piping may take over 20 years, utilities have found a short term solution to control the amount of lead in their drinking water. They are focusing on the treatment process and monitoring what makes up the drinking water. Introducing orthophosphates to the water supply and flushing all the standing water creates a scale of protective coating on the interior surfaces of lead pipes, reducing corrosion. This limits the amount of lead that leaches into the water and offers a short term solution as we figure out how to permanently replace all lead pipes from our water distribution systems.

Orthophosphates added to treated drinking water has created a protective coating on the interior surface of this lead pipe.

In Wisconsin, the Madison Water Utility has become a national model for cities struggling with lead in their drinking water. They are the first major utility in the nation to demonstrate that a full replacement of both the public and the private portions of lead service lines is possible. This involved working with residents to remove lead service lines from their homes and nearby property. The project started in 2001 and has provided safe drinking water to 5,600 property owners. The plan, which was very controversial at the time, is now hailed as a model and has spurred other utilities into action. For example, Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC) implemented a program that offers a credit of up to $2,000 and interest-free loans to assist homeowners who are willing to remove lead pipes on their property. BWSC also has a searchable online database for homeowners to see if their property has a lead service line.  Also, the Massachusetts Water Resource Authority (MWRA) announced earlier this year that it will provide $100 million to its member water communities to fully replace lead service lines, including residential lines. These utilities are shining examples of the many organizations taking a long term approach to this national crisis.

Recent news reports of lead in drinking water and the controversy surrounding testing methodologies have acted as a catalyst for public schools across the country to test their water. Unfortunately, many of these tests indicate high, potentially dangerous, levels of lead concentrations in public drinking fountains, sparking outcry from parents and prompting a series of public meetings. In response, the EPA changed lead testing regulations on February 29, 2016 and now require utilities to use wide mouth bottles, conduct no pre-stagnation flush, and to run faucets at typical flow rates when testing for lead — precisely the opposite of how testing had previously been conducted. While many people have been quick to blame utilities for lead in their drinking water and have even gone so far to suggest that utilities have been practicing testing “cheats,” they were in actuality following protocol issued by EPA.

The EPA is also considering changes to the Safe Drinking Water Act’s rules regarding lead, and an advisory panel has proposed a more proactive approach to replacing lead pipes. The proposal would encourage public water systems to replace lead pipes versus waiting for lead levels to spike to take action. This plan involves substantial increases in funding to water companies and municipalities for the replacement of lead pipes in both the public and the private portions of lead service lines, including residential lines. With this additional funding, water utilities across the country will be able to set goals for a permanent solution to our nation’s lead crisis. Admittedly, we have a long road ahead of us as many cities simply do not know the exact number or location of lead pipes in their system. Add to that the cost and person power required to replace our nation’s lead service lines, and it becomes apparent that a 100% lead-free infrastructure is still many years away.

What Can You Do?

When water sits stagnant in lead service lines for even a few hours, it picks up lead from the pipe, which can make using your faucet hazardous. Find out if your home is serviced by lead service lines by calling your local water department. This is especially important to homes built prior to 1980. If your home still has lead service lines, you can reduce the risk of lead contamination in your drinking water by taking some simple steps:

  • Call your State Department of Public Health for health information, or visit their website.
  • Run tap water until after the water feels cold. Flushing pipes in this way before use assures that you are not drinking water that has been sitting stagnant in pipes.
  • Never use hot water from the faucet for drinking or cooking, especially when making baby formula or food for small children. Hot water from your faucet has a higher chance of containing traces of lead. Instead, use cold water and heat it on the stove or in the microwave.

In Conclusion


The good news is that lead contaminated water crises like the situation in Flint, Michigan have called for stricter regulations and replacement of nearly six million lead service lines nationwide. The not so good news is that we still have a long way to go to completely remove all lead in our water systems. Nearly all homes built prior to the 1980s still have lead solder connecting copper pipes, and some major U.S. cities still have 100 percent lead piping that delivers water from the utilities to homes and businesses. Replacing lead service lines is the safest way to prevent lead contamination, and public and private water companies must work together with state and national organizations to replace lead pipes in all of our water distribution systems. Solving our lead contamination crisis will benefit everyone if we work together for a permanent solution. After all, everyone deserves safe drinking water.

Water Crisis in the United States, Part 2: Crumbling Infrastructure

cars driving through flooded road caused by burst water main

Continuing our July theme on water crises in the United States, this week’s article will dive into our nation’s deteriorating water infrastructure — and how we can fix it. America’s infrastructure is in serious trouble, especially our water systems. Although the quality of drinking water in the U.S. remains high, our aging water infrastructure can no longer be ignored. Many of the pipes are over 100 years old and are exceeding their useful life. We experience about 240,000 water main breaks each year, or one every two minutes. These breaks result in 1.7 trillion gallons of clean water wasted annually. If not replaced, these water systems are expected to cost over a trillion dollars in repairs in the coming decades and, more importantly, put people’s health at risk.

The State of Our Infrastructure

Severely corroded pipe
Severely corroded pipe

Every four years, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) develops a report card that depicts the condition and performance of American infrastructure. Our water and wastewater infrastructure both received a D grade, which is a slight improvement from the 2009 report card which ranked both water and wastewater at a D-.  Despite the subtle improvement, our country has a long way to go to bring our water systems up to date and make them adequate for future demands.

We as citizens have become blind to our failing infrastructure by accepting preventable environmental hazards as the norm. Events such as polluted and toxic drinking water, floods from levee failures, lead contamination, and constant pipeline bursts have become all too common in our nation. It is apparent that there is a pressing need for modernization, reliability, and long-term funding. Despite these alarming scores and figures, we can improve the current condition of our nation’s infrastructure if we take the right steps.

What We Can Do Now

A section of pipe showing extreme clogging
A section of pipe showing extreme clogging

One of the best ways municipalities and water companies can improve and monitor their aging water systems is pipe testing. Testing the strength of pipes provides insight on how likely a system is to fail or leak. Pipe testing also helps to identify areas of a water system needing repairs, which can save millions of gallons of water as well as a lot of money.

Another way to assess a water system is with an annual water audit. Water audits help municipalities and water companies figure out how to address non-revenue water (NRW). NRW is water that is pumped into the system but not accounted for due to leaks, theft, customer metering inaccuracies, and other inaccurate accounting of water use. Effective water audits can reduce the need for facility upgrades and expansions, reduce the need to find additional sources, and help protect public health by reducing the number of entry points for disease‐causing pathogens.

Although pipe testing and water audits assist in monitoring and improving water systems, the real solution is long term replacement through government and legislative action. To do so, we need to accomplish three important goals:

  • Increase leadership in infrastructure renewal. We need bold and compelling vision at the national level if we plan on getting anything done. A way we can make this happen is to tell our legislators to take action.
  • Promote sustainability and ongoing maintenance. Our infrastructure must meet our present and future demands as challenges continue to arise. Our water system problems are not just a one time fix; we need plans in place to monitor and maintain our systems for growing future demand.
  • Develop, prioritize, and fund plans to maintain and enhance our infrastructure. Once funded, infrastructure projects must be prioritized in ways that improve people’s lives and support a thriving economy. Fixing our infrastructure is going to be expensive. We need to prioritize future improvements based on the benefits and demand of the improvements so we can best serve everyone across the country. Everyone deserves clean, safe drinking water.

What to Take Away

faucet-drip-isolated-255x300The truth is, there is too much at stake to keep ignoring our weakening infrastructure. If we do not do something soon, Americans may be in for some serious surprises. Imagine not being able to drink the water that comes out of our faucets or even take a shower without worrying about water borne diseases and bacteria.  If we wish to seriously improve our water infrastructure, we need collaboration from all parties, both public and private. Politicians and lawmakers need to take definitive action and commit to a sustainable and reliable plan to make our water systems safe and adequate for the future. We need to make the condition of our country’s water systems a top priority.

Water Mains — Then and Now

ancient-terra-cotta-water-main-minoan-1-281x300Water mains play a crucial role in modern day civilization and contribute greatly to public health. Water mains have been in use for over 4000 years, and, through the years, huge strides have been made in the engineering and construction of this critical infrastructure.

Early Mains

The first known underground water mains were constructed by the ancient Minoan civilization between 2200 and 1400 BCE. Constructed of terra cotta, these ancient mains supplied water to the Palace of Knossos. In fact, the ancient Minoans were incredibly advanced for their time, as they also had flushing toilets, sewer piping and drainage, and even rainwater harvesting capabilities. Amazingly enough, the water mains of Knossos were over 1,000 years ahead of their time, as there is no historical evidence of any other water mains until the time of the Roman Empire, between 312 BCE and 500 AD.

Remains of part of the famed Roman aqueducts
Remains of part of the famed Roman aqueducts

The Roman Empire saw a time of incredible engineering achievement, including the invention of concrete, the construction of bridges and roads, and of course, the innovation of the famous aqueducts. Using gravity to transport water from the outlying hills to the city, these aqueducts, the longest of which was 57 miles, were an incredible engineering accomplishment — and some still stand today. During the early years of the Roman Empire, only the very wealthiest of Romans had water piped directly into their homes via rudimentary water mains, which were constructed of hollowed out logs or drilled stone. Later, water was piped to additional affluent homes via lead pipes. While some argue that the fall of Rome can be attributed to lead poisoning, there is no hard evidence that this theory is true.

Middle Years

Circa 1790 wooden water main from Boston, Massachusetts
Circa 1790 wooden water main from Boston, Massachusetts

Wooden pipes were used in 16th and 17th century Europe, and in 18th and 19th century Canada and United States. To this day, wooden pipes are occasionally unearthed during construction events in Boston, Massachusetts. Wooden pipes did present some problems in that they tended to attract insects and to rot. Also, they imparted a distinct woody flavor to the water.

In the 1800s, lead pipes came into popularity due to their durability and low cost. However, it was eventually recognized that lead water mains were causing lead poisoning, and by the 1920s, an increasing number of municipalities were prohibiting the use of lead pipes to convey drinking water. Long before Flint, Michigan, one of the worst lead poisoning disasters took place in Lowell, Massachusetts in the 1890s, where some of the drinking water tested contained 1,300 times the current EPA drinking water standard. Werner Troesken, an economist at the University of Pittsburgh, authored an entire book about widespread lead poisoning in turn of the century America from lead water mains.

Modern Times

Advanced Condition Assessment for Pipeline Rehabilitation helps determine which pipes in a water distribution system are in need of rehabilitation or replacement.

Because lead pipes were recognized to have negative health effects, cast iron water mains because the popular choice in the early 1900s. In use sporadically since 1455 when Germany laid the first recorded cast iron water main in history, cast iron offered a strong, durable, and safe means by which to convey water. Many municipalities on the east coast of America still have cast iron pipes in place that were laid over a century ago. Since their useful life expectancy is 75-125 years, many of these cast iron mains are nearing the end of their useful life or are overdue for replacement. Unfortunately, universal replacement of these failing mains is impossible due to the sheer volume of outdated mains combined with the shrinking budgets and increased regulations that municipalities are currently facing. Therefore, many municipalities are turning to more methodical means of determining which mains should be replaced, such as Advanced Condition Assessment for Pipeline Rehabilitation, which determines the amount of useful life left in a main, and Capital Efficiency Plans™, which identify areas of water systems most in need of rehabilitation, repair, or replacement. Systematically determining utilities’ most critical needs enables efficient use of their limited infrastructure dollars.

Ductile iron main is the material of choice today; shown, Milford Water Company water main install; design, construction administration, and resident observation by Tata & Howard
Ductile iron main is the material of choice today; shown, Milford Water Company water main install; design, construction administration, and resident observation by Tata & Howard

One of the most important modern innovations in water supply is the development of ductile iron in 1948. First used commercially in 1955, ductile iron main is still used today and boasts the longevity of cast iron pipe with the additional benefits of increased flexibility and strength. In addition to ductile iron, modern day water mains are also constructed from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic pipe.

Looking Ahead

Many advances have been made in the conveyance of water since the early days of the Minoans, with several major innovations occurring during the last century. Building on historical knowledge as well as an ever increasing understanding of water chemistry, toxicology, and engineering, water distribution methodology is likely to continue to evolve in ways that will ensure our water is safe, clean, and abundant for future generations.