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Raising a glass to 40 years of the Safe Water Drinking Act

Raising a glass to 40 years of the Safe Water Drinking Act

by BROCK McEWEN, CH2M HILL Global Technology Director

On December 16 here in the United States, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)—a milestone worth celebrating because for four decades, utilities and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have worked together, and invested heavily, to ensure that our drinking water is not only safe, but that it remains a top priority in our country.

CH2M Hill's McEwen

CH2M Hill's McEwen

When the SDWA was passed in 1974, the bill established new Federal primary drinking water standards protective of public health, as well as secondary standards for matters like taste, odor, and appearance. It was left up to state and local agencies to determine the necessary controls required to meet the standards. In 1996, amendments to the SDWA strengthened and expanded the nation’s drinking water protections by giving Americans the right to know about tap water contaminants.

Additionally, the legislation increased standards to protect public health from contaminants; provided funding to help communities in need upgrade drinking water systems; and protected drinking water sources from contamination. With the SDWA and its amendments, Americans gained more access to direct, simple information so they could better understand the importance of water quality, contaminants, water sources, and whether the water coming from their tap posed any risk to their health.

For the last 40 years, the SDWA has helped us shape how we think about water quality and drinking water standards in the U.S. From it has come game-changing technologies to guarantee that our drinking water supply is safe and abundant. For instance, in 2001, the EPA initiated the Water Security Initiative (WSI) to identify solutions to a large-scale contamination event in a major water distribution system. In response to WSI, CH2M HILL worked with water utilities in four major cities, to develop comprehensive contamination warning systems capable of accurately detecting contaminants or events which could lead to contamination in real time—putting public health and safety at the forefront of innovation.

Earlier this year, we also collaborated with Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. to develop sustainable connectivity solutions leveraging machine-to-machine (M2M) cellular technologies to help water utilities improve water quality, receive reliable information, and more effectively manage water resources. By enhancing the distribution system using wireless technology and sensors, utility operators can detect and collect more information about what is happening throughout the water system to assure reliable delivery of safe quality water at all times.

In addition, we’ve been at the forefront of developing technologies to advance water reuse, including potable water reuse to ensure that we have access to abundant water supplies. It all started more than 50 years ago with the design and operation of the first, full-scale advanced water purification facility in the U.S., located in South Lake Tahoe. The South Lake Tahoe Water Purification Plant was the first advanced water purification plant built in the world, and served as a major catalyst for advancing capability to purify water from less than pristine sources of supply.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District in Orlando, Florida, introduced a technology revolution that helped to make the use of water reuse technology more affordable—incorporating dual membrane treatment (microfiltration) and reverse osmosis (RO) for water reuse. Use of membrane processes for water purification on this project led to the application of indirect water reuse and dual membrane processes in many other water plants, including the West Basin Water Recycling Facility in El Segundo, California, which was the first to produce multiple grades of recycled water for high-tech industrial applications, landscape irrigation, and potable use.

Designing other projects like the Singapore NEWater facility has further advanced potable water recycling technology. One of the biggest factors we recognize is that technology and public acceptance must go hand in hand to solve our world’s integrated water problems. By integrating broad-based public outreach programs as a component of the reuse solution, CH2M HILL has helped communicate the benefits and safety of recycling purified water.  As our world demands more water and resources to operate, water reuse will play a major role in water supply strategies, both for potable and non-potable uses.

So today, as we think about how these technologies are changing the way we think about water, we recognize the monumental impact clean water has on our health and economy. I’m proud to work for a company that is playing a key role in helping keep our world’s drinking water safe.

In honor of the 40th anniversary of the SDWA, will you raise a glass with me and toast to tap water (Tweet a photo using the hashtag #toast2tap and #SDWA40), as well as the game-changing technologies that will hopefully one day lead to a world where everyone has access to safe, clean drinking water?

Brock McEwen is the Global Technology Director at CH2M HILL and Senior Fellow Drinking Water and Reuse Technologist. Based in Denver, he has worked at the firm for more than 27 years and has extensive experience in municipal water supply, including expertise in the planning, design, construction, and operation of water treatment facilities. He is a nationally recognized authority on water treatment, including water process engineering and project delivery.  E-mail: Brock.McEwen@ch2m.com

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