US FEDERAL Government’s Role in Ensuring Water Safety and Quality in Nebraska
In the light of the Flint, Michigan water crisis, many Americans are wondering about the US Federal Government’s role in ensuring water safety. As details emerge about Flint’s residents being supplied lead-contaminated water for over a year, Nebraska residents are wondering if such a water crisis could happen here.
The Flint, Michigan Water Crisis
Flint, Michigan is approximately 70 miles from the Great Lakes, but the residents have been unable to enjoy clean water in their homes. Approximately two years ago, the city attempted to save money by moving their water supply from Lake Huron, which required payment to the City of Detroit, to the Flint River. Unfortunately, the Flint River was known for being extremely dirty and polluted from years of manufacturing abuse and dumping. What is less known was that the switch was meant to be only temporary and a measure to manage a dire financial state of emergency. A new state-run Lake Huron supply line was in development and was estimated to require approximately two years for connection to Flint.
Almost immediately after the supply switch, residents began to notice that the water looked, tasted and smelled “funny.” Reports of hair loss, skin rashes and other issues also began. To get a sense of how caustic and bad the water was, even a General Motors plant in the area stopped using the water in its manufacturing processes, complaining that it was rusting and damaging metal parts.
According to Virginia Tech researchers, the Flint River is 19 times more corrosive than the Lake Huron supply. To make matters worse, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality didn’t treat the water from the Flint River with any anti-corrosive agents. This meant that the old iron water mains began to be eroded by the water, creating a brown tint. Additionally, since approximately half the service lines to Flint residences are made of lead, lead also began to leach into the water supply. This resulted in highly contaminated drinking water with potentially devastating health consequences.
Could a Flint Water Crisis Happen Here?
Both Federal and State laws require any water supply to protect their systems from possible contamination. The Safe Drinking Water Act was revised by Congress in 1996, creating the requirement for public water supply systems to provide to all Nebraska utility company customers annual water quality reports.
The employees of any public water systems are supposed to monitor contaminant levels in water. This failed to happen in Flint. Nebraska Health and Human Services is mandated to inform the Nebraska water utility companies of substances that pose a potential health risk and what the safe levels are for human consumption. These levels are determined by the EPA.
The EPA is a Federal agency that regulates limits for contaminants that pose a health risk. The EPA currently monitors approximately 90 water contaminants including radioactive materials, bacteria, minerals and inorganic materials such as lead. To ensure that water is safe for consumption, the EPA determines the acceptable levels of contaminants permitted in water supplies. In the case of lead, since it is so dangerous, the acceptable level is zero.
The EPA also regulates the frequency PWS (public water systems) monitor contaminant levels in their water. The general rule of thumb is that more frequent monitoring and reporting is needed for water systems serving larger populations found in major cities. The EPA also requires that PWSs notify their customers and the public of any violations. Under the Safe Water Drinking Act, the PWS is required to provide details about the nature of any violation, potential adverse health effects, steps being taken to correct the issue and if there is a provision for alternative water supplies.
In short, this sort of disaster should not occur in Nebraska, then again it should not have of ever occurred in Michigan either. Point being environmental catastrophes can occur anywhere. If you are concerned about the quality of your water, speak to your local WQA (Water Quality Association) certified water treatment professional. A professional may provide you and your family with the added peace of mind that you are controlling the quality of water that comes out of your tap.
About The Author, Terry Reeh, EcoWater Systems of Nebraska:
With more than 25 years experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Terry is a WQA (Water Quality Association) certified water specialist, LEVEL 3, as well as a WQA certified sales representative. EcoWater Systems of Nebraska is one of the biggest water treatment and water delivery businesses in the state and Terry currently sits on EcoWater Systems (a Berkshire Hathaway Company) national Peers committee, as a water treatment expert advising other water professionals with less experience on best trade and technology practices.