Water Groups Support Formation of Mutual Assistance Network

Eight U.S. water groups have endorsed a program to establish a mutual assistance network among their member companies...

Eight U.S. water groups have endorsed a program to establish a mutual assistance network among their member companies and local or state governments.

Joining the pact were the American Water Works Association (AWWA), the Water Environment Federation, the National Rural Water Association (NRWA), the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators (ASDWA), the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA), the National Association of Water Companies and the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators.

“Hurricane Katrina was a real wake up call to the whole country,” said AWWA executive director Jack Hoffbuhr. “The water community has a long history of working towards emergency preparedness, and these mutual aid networks are the next step. They will provide rapid, short-term deployment of emergency assistance to any water or wastewater utility affected by either natural or manmade events.”

The groups said water/wastewater utilities need a method that would allow them to help intrastate utilities that have sustained damages.

“The objective is to provide rapid, short-term deployment of emergency services to restore the critical operations of the affected water/wastewater utilities. The assistance could be personnel, equipment, materials and other associated services,” a spokesman for the group said.

“The establishment of such intrastate mutual aid and assistance networks is a core principle of the National Preparedness Goal developed by the Department of Homeland Security.”

A NRWA event in Washington, D.C., in February underscored the need to recognize water and wastewater utility employees as first responders when disasters strike.

The NRWA briefing, which focused on lessons learned from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, highlighted the challenges in providing support to rural and small water and wastewater systems in the face of natural disasters. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and ASDWA officials, plus rural water operators from Louisiana and Mississippi, attended the briefing.

Those attending were told how rural water systems have provided short and long-term post-hurricane support and how they could be better prepared for future disasters.

They were told that governmental agencies should regard water and wastewater personnel as first responders since their services are just as critical as medical, police and fire services − and medical and fire services require water supplies.

Therefore, those water employees need the proper support and identification from local and state governments to gain immediate access to disaster areas so they can restore critical services.

Senate Questions Reduced Water Spending

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee members greeted the administration’s request for reduced water spending with skepticism at a February hearing on the EPA’s budget.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), committee chairman, criticized the administration’s plan to cut the EPA budget by $310 million to $7.31 billion, and cut the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (CWSRF) program by $199 million to $687 million. The committee does not have direct budgetary responsibility in the Senate.

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson said the requested funds would be sufficient to capitalize the CWSRF fund at $6.8 billion by 2011 and would help develop innovative strategies for financing water and wastewater systems.

NACWA said the proposed cuts to the CWSRF are untenable. It said studies by EPA, the Congressional Budget Office, the Government Accountability Office and the Water Infrastructure Network estimate a water infrastructure funding gap exceeding $300 billion over the next 20 years.

Ken Kirk, NACWA’s executive director, said, “This proposed budget cut to the CWSRF is the wrong measure at the wrong time. Without a long-term, sustainable federal-state-local partnership communities will not be able to tackle essential capital replacement projects needed to meet federal Clean Water Act mandates and improve the quality of the nation’s waters.”

NACWA is advocating the Clean Water Trust Act of 2005, which would create a trust fund that would provide $7.5 billion a year from 2006-2010 in loans and grants. The fund would be similar to highway and airport trust funds supported by dedicated revenue sources.

WQA Warns Against Hardness in Drinking Water

Hardness in drinking water should not necessarily be deemed a health benefit, the Lisle, Illinois-based Water Quality Association (WQA) has warned the World Health Organization (WHO).

WHO is reviewing scientific literature to determine whether consumption of calcium and magnesium in drinking water leads to lower instances of cardiovascular heart disease.

WQA said the current evidence is inconclusive and more research is needed. It warned that if WHO made an ill-founded finding that hard water deterred heart disease, it could negatively affect consumers’ perceptions of home water treatment, bottled water, and even naturally soft municipal water supplies - drinking water sources that are otherwise safe and healthy.

“Water softeners and reverse osmosis systems take calcium and magnesium out of water, so the potential for WHO conclusions that these elements are either beneficial or recommended in drinking water would definitely be damaging to our industry, so we want to be certain that the literature is incontrovertible, which it isn’t now,” said WQA technical director Joseph Harrison.

He said water softeners also remove most traces of iron, manganese, lead, cadmium, barium, radium, strontium, beryllium and aluminum while reverse osmosis systems take out those minerals more completely.

He said treatment devices might also remove harmful compounds such as nitrate, arsenic, endocrine disrupters, and many other synthetic and volatile organic chemicals.

The issue emerged when attendees at a WHO workshop in 2003 discussed a possible link between water hardness and heart disease. The topic will be explored further at the International Symposium on Health Aspects of Calcium and Magnesium in Drinking Water, April 24-26 in Baltimore, Md.

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