Entries for March 2012


Today we had a SmallWaterSupply.org reader call us up with a specific request. He was looking for information on the potential consequences of grazing and stabling livestock, in this case horses, too close to a well. 

We found a USEPA document on protecting drinking water from horse waste as well as several more general resources he could use to educate the livestock owner and other community members on this topic. 

  • A poster on how farms can protect drinking water sources
  • A video on the basics of groundwater 
  • A factsheet on groundwater misconceptions
  • An article on how water supplies become polluted
  • 5 video PSAs on source water protection
  • A 15 minute video on source water protection (part 1 | part 2)
  • A 9 minute video on source water protection and understanding sources
  • An 8 page "Good Neighbor Guidelines" for Livestock Management

 Do you know of other resources on livestock and source water protection?

I was at the Alabama Rural Water Association Conference a few weeks ago and there was a really interesting talk by a lawyer for an Alabama utility.  The utility is being sued by a few of their customers for poor water quality even though their water meets all health standards.  If a water supply provides water that meets all of the health standards and their operation meets all of the regulatory requirements, should their customers be able to sue them if they percieve there are water quality problems? Thats a tricky question for sure.
Safe Harbor
A safe harbor law basically protects someone from civil suit if they are meeting all of the legal and professional requirements for the services they provide.  For instance, a prosecutor in a district attorney's office has immunity from civil action, even if they help put an innocent man in jail.  For a water system, this type of law would mean that your customers cannot sue you for percieved water quality problems if you are meeting all of the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act and your state regulations.  Alabama currently does not have such a law.
What's Happening In Alabama
Because of the lawsuit currently going on in Alabama, there is a push to pass a "safe harbor" law as an amendment to the Alabama SDWA. It's going through their state legislature now and appears to have alot of support.  In the ongoing lawsuit, 10 homeowners that are spread throughout a 53 home subdivision, claim their water has oil and grease in it.  Testing by the utility and extensive testing by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management show there are only normal, background levels in the water (a trip blank even had similar levels in it).  I don't want to get into the details, but 3000 customers use water from the same main, and some of the allegations (like their water catches fire), are hard to understand if the water is meeting all of the SDWA standards. 
What It Means
I'm not a judge or jury, but I do believe that if a utility is meeting its legal obligations and works with their customers fairly and openly, there should be some reasonable expectation that the utility met its obligation and has their customers best interests at heart. As the speaker said, without this legislation, any customer could sue any utility and that could lead to a jury setting water standards in that state, "regulation by litigation" is the term he used.  Can water systems afford litigation because of unhappy customers? 
How about you?  Does your state have "Safe Harbor" legislation attached to its SDWA rules?  Do you think it's a good idea?


These aren't new words. In fact, it seems like everyone is coming out with a bigger estimate of the future cost of infrastructure every few weeks and because the numbers are so big, they all seem irrelevant for small systems.  Not so.  This new report by AWWA definately puts some perspective on the issue for small systems.
Buried No Longer
AWWA has released a report entitled "Buried No Longer: Confronting America's Water Infrastructure Challenge".  Recently, there have been snippets on the news about $1 trillion dollars over the next 25 years and other details that certainly catch your eye.  But I encourage you to take a look at the report.  
What It Says
The report is short and to the point.  It's only 16 pages and a good portion of that is made up of pictures and figures. But the information provided is sobering.  It points out in Figures 7 and 8 that the estimated costs per household for infrastructure replacement are about $100 annually for large systems, but $400-$800+ per household for small systems. 
Small systems are a widespread concern. According to AWWA, 84.5% of all public water supplies serve less than 3,300 people. The main findings are that for most systems, water bills will have to go up.  More importantly, the time is now to start planning for future upgrades. The report also looks at geographic area and how populations are changing (going up in the south and west, no so much in the Northeast and Midwest).  This has implications for how your town might grow in the future. 
Pipe Matters
The report lists the estimated service life for all of the major kinds of pipe.  You can find that on page 8 in Figure 5.  Basically, you have ductile iron and PVC on the low end of about 60 years, and cast iron on the high end of about 120 years. The take home message is this, "...most of our buried drinking water infrastructure was built 50 or more years ago..." (p.4) and "Because pipe assets last a long time, water systems that were built in the latter part of the 19th century and throughout the 20th century have, for the most part, never experienced the need for pipe replacement on a large scale." (p.14) How long has your pipe been in the ground?
What It Means
Most people living in your small community have never seen the pipes that bring them their water daily.  They have no understanding of the costs of replacement, nor are they willing to pay more for their water today to plan for infrastructure replacement in the future.  It's time to educate your customers and begin putting money in the bank today. Failure to do so may result in even higher costs in the future, or worse, create an unsolvable situation in your community that can only be dealt with by consolidation or reduction in service.  The days of government bailout for systems that can't sustain themselves are coming to an end, so you need to ask yourself, how important is your way of life today and how important is it for the future.
Next Steps
Becoming sustainable requires planning and financial management.  Is your system putting money in the bank for future infrastructure needs?  Do your rates reflect the true costs of providing water?  Is there "extra" in your rates for replacement costs?  Do you review your financial situation and consider rate changes on a regular basis?  Does your community have a long-term plan for the sustainability of its water (and wastewater) system?  All of these answers should be "Yes".  If they aren't, its time to get some help from your TA providers on what you can do to start down this path.
by Jeremiah Corbin, Source Water Protection Specialist at South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems
Put up signs
Post signs along the border of your source water protection area to notify people that
any pollution in that area can affect the quality of local drinking water.

Use and dispose of harmful materials properly
Don’t dump them on the ground! Hazardous waste that is dumped or buried can contaminate the soil and move down into the ground water, or be carried into nearby surface waters by runoff during rainstorms. You might be surprised to learn that a number of products you use at home contain hazardous or toxic substances. Products like motor oil, pesticides, leftover paints or paint cans, mothballs, flea collars, weed killers, household cleaners and even a number of medicines contain materials that can be harmful to surface water and ground water.

Don’t overuse pesticides or fertilizers
You might apply fertilizers to make your grass thick and green, your flowers colorful and your vegetable crop abundant. You also might use pesticides to keep bugs from ruining what the fertilizers have helped to produce. What you might not know is that many of these fertilizers and pesticides contain hazardous chemicals that can travel through the soil and contaminate ground water. If you feel you must use these chemicals, use them in moderation.

Volunteer in your community
Find a watershed or wellhead protection organization in your community and volunteer to help. If there are no active groups, consider starting one. Use EPA’s “Adopt Your Watershed” to locate groups in your community, or visit the Watershed Information Network’s “How to Start a Watershed Team”. These tools can be located by searching epa.gov.
Identify ways you can help prevent runoff pollution from your home, business or farm
Check out Give Water a Hand (for students) or the National Farm*A*Syst/ Home*A*Syst Voluntary Assessment Programs (for farmers and homeowners) to find out how you can be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
Join in a beach, stream or wetland cleanup
You can make new friends while you help protect source water.

Prepare a presentation about your watershed for a school or civic organization
Discuss water quality threats, including polluted runoff and habitat loss. Highlight things people can do to protect water quality, including limiting fertilizer use and eliminating the use of herbicides and pesticides. Research your presentation using EPA’s Nonpoint Source Program.

Organize a storm drain stenciling project
Stencil a message next to the street drain reminding people “Dump No Waste - Drains to River” with the image of a fish. Stencils are also available for lakes, streams, bays, ground water and oceans, as well as the simple “Protect Your Water” logo with the image of a glass and faucet. Produce and distribute a flyer for households to remind residents that storm drains dump directly into your local water body.
This article was originally published in the January-February issue of ServiceLine, a publication of the South Dakota Association of Rural Water Systems.
SmallWaterSupply.org Comment: This information would make a great handout for your customers, in addition to reminding you about the importance of source water protection for your community.  Contact us if you have any questions.