How water treatment professionals can educate policymakers

Aug. 4, 2023
WQA and TWQA are helping Houston revise a plumbing code using a multi-step approach using evidence-based advocacy, avoiding misinformation and coalition-building.

New or longstanding laws and regulations, no matter how well-intentioned, can be especially difficult to navigate for the drinking water treatment industry. It is crucial for businesses to be proactive and look for opportunities to drive positive change when it comes to public policy.  

Laws or regulations can unintentionally hinder the accessibility of point-of-use (POU) and point-of-entry (POE) technologies, ultimately impacting those who need them most – disadvantaged and vulnerable communities. It is vital for the water treatment industry to help guide policymakers by educating them on POU and POE technologies and using scientific and technical information to oppose ill-conceived policies and regulations. Looking at a case study confirms the value of using science to guide policy. 

Water softeners 

Softener regulations, for example, are an especially contentious subject at the state and local level. Policies governing water softeners can take many different forms either through setting salt discharge restrictions, water efficiency standards, and requirements mandated by plumbing codes.  

While general plumbing codes like the Uniform Plumbing Code (UPC) and International Plumbing Code (IPC) provide a broad framework for plumbing system regulations, state and local jurisdictions have the authority to create specialty codes, allowing policymakers to tailor requirements to address unique water quality challenges, environmental considerations, and public health priorities related to water softening.  

Plumbing code regulations 

A prime example of this approach is Houston. Since 2006, the city’s specialty plumbing code contained a provision mandating a double-check valve assembly for all water softeners to protect against cross-connection. This was a unique measure and an additional safety requirement for water softeners; neither the base UPC nor IPC contained this requirement. For years, the city continued to enforce a costly and burdensome provision for residents. Recently, Houston has undergone a construction code modernization effort to revise the plumbing code and is looking to provide a carve-out for residential water softeners to be exempt from this provision.  

Both the Water Quality Association (WQA) and Texas Water Quality Association (TWQA) have been active in advocating for a revision to this section for over 15 years. The two associations used a multi-step framework and consistent engagement to provide education while addressing concerns and misconceptions. The approach was built on the following pillars: Evidence-based advocacy, avoiding misinformation, and coalition-building.  

Pillar 1 – Evidence-based Advocacy: Advocacy backed by scientific evidence carries more weight and credibility. It helps mobilize stakeholders and the public against ill-conceived policies, fostering a stronger, fact-based opposition.  

Pillar 2 – Avoiding Misinformation: Relying on scientific and technical information helps counter misinformation or manipulation of data that could be used to support ill-conceived regulations. This also provides a factual basis for evaluating policies, rather than subjective beliefs or ideologies. 

In the case of Houston, evidence was used from multiple sources to support revising the regulations; information from the US EPA, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), and certifying bodies including NSF, ANSI, IAPMO, and WQA, demonstrating that neither water softeners nor their salt tanks contain any hazardous material. The UPC and IPC contain installation and certification requirements that also address the cross-connection issue – residential softeners are required to be NSF/ANSI 44 certified, which covers material safety and structural integrity, and the UPC and IPC already require an air gap, which is the highest level of cross-connection protection available. Such information was essential in addressing the concerns about cross-connection and misconceptions of water softening technology and underscored the role of using third-party information and scientific data in fighting against ill-conceived policies.  

Pillar 3 – Coalition-building: Coalition-building is a strategic approach that involves forming alliances among diverse groups or stakeholders. It aims to amplify collective voices, resources and influence to address common concerns, advocate for change and achieve shared goals. By uniting various parties, coalition-building fosters collaboration, promotes inclusivity and enhances the collective impact of advocacy efforts. 

In Houston, bringing together 29 organizations in support of a common cause effectively demonstrated the strength of and unity of the water treatment industry.  

Navigating laws and regulations can be especially difficult for the water treatment industry. Public policies may have good intentions but can be onerous and burdensome for the public. Identifying the window of opportunity and taking action are the first steps, but it may also be necessary to strengthen opposition through evidence-based advocacy, avoiding misinformation and coalition-building. 

About the Author

Jordan Kari

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