By Kai Lord-Farmer
When I wake up in the morning and turn on the faucet to brush my teeth and wash my face, I never question whether or not water will flow out of the faucet. I never question whether this water is safe for me to drink or to wash my dishes or cook my food. I assume I can go about my day not having to worry about whether there will be enough water to take a shower in the morning. As much as I appreciate that I am able to live a life free of these worries, it begs the question, “What are the regulations and institutions in place that give me confidence that I will always have safe water to use?” This question led me to study exactly where my water was coming from and how it ended up in my tap, clean and safe for me to use every morning when I wake up.
In San Luis Obispo, California, USA, where I live, the city’s Utilities Department relies on four main water sources, the Salinas, Nacimiento and Whale rock reservoirs, and reclaimed water for irrigation. The Utilities Department also supplements supplies with local groundwater. Treated water is distributed to all properties within the city through 175 miles of pipes and associated storage tanks and pumping stations.
Two laws govern water quality management by the San Luis Obispo’s Utilities Department. The Federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), originally past in1974 to protect public health, sets national drinking water quality standards and establishes standardized monitoring procedures for assessing compliance with these standards. Key features of SDWA include EPA standards for Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCL’s) in drinking water for all contaminants that may cause adverse public health effects, categorized as microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection byproducts, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals and radionuclides. The California Safe Drinking Water Act (CSDW) regulates implementation of the SDWA. Key features of CSDW include assigning drinking water quality monitoring and standards enforcements to the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) as well as establishing more stringent MCL standards for certain contaminants such as cyanide, atrazine and perchlorate.
Under the CSDW, the State Water Resources Control Board’s (SWRCB) Division of Drinking Water Programs is tasked with overseeing water quality monitoring of all public water systems within the state. To maintain compliance with the SDWA and CSDW, the San Luis Obispo Utilities Department regularly tests water samples for a wide variety of radioactive, biological, inorganic, volatile organic, and synthetic organic contaminants. The water quality test results are sent to the State Water Board’s Southern California Field Operations Branch for regulatory compliance review. The Utilities Department, which operates as its own water quality laboratory, is regularly inspected by SWRCB’s Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program to verify the quality of water quality analysis procedures and data. The Utilities Department is also required under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act to release an annual “Consumer Confidence Report” to the public, summarizing all water quality testing done during the year and identifying all contaminants found and their potential health risks.
Learning about these various levels of testing and monitoring makes me feel confident I can wake up each day to safe and clean water. With a few clicks, I was able to go online to the City of San Luis Obispo’s website and find all the information I needed on where my water comes from and how it gets to me, clean and safe to use. From water testing procedures to up-to-date water quality standards to monthly and yearly water quality reports, the city’s website helps explain all the necessary steps of providing water to its residents. This transparency and detail provided by the city is an important step in reassuring residents that the city is working hard to provide safe drinking water to all its citizens.