There are nearly 9,100 public water systems in Pennsylvania and roughly 2,000 municipal or community water systems of all sizes. Each has unique needs when it comes to water treatment. The Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee heard testimony from several people Friday in Collier Twp. about treating such water systems.
“It’s a big issue here in western Pennsylvania as was just demonstrated in Westmoreland County,” said state Senator Matt Smith, who requested the hearing. “We, as a legislature need to look at every way possible that we can make our municipal drinking water safer, make sure that we are treating it in the most effective and efficient manner possible.”
Last week, parts of Westmoreland County were under a boil advisory for drinking water due to a possible contamination. The safe drinking water manager at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection spoke to the committee first, highlighting the need for challenges faced when ensuring communities have safe drinking water. She said in many cases, water treatment may not be the most efficient method, the source should also be considered.
“It is far better and cheaper to protect sources of drinking water than it is to try and clean them up afterwards,” said Deborah McDonald. “In fact, the EPA estimates that every $1.00 spent on source water protection saves an average of $27.00 in water treatment costs.”
Challenges to providing safe drinking water include aging infrastructure, more frequent and severe storms, floods, droughts and competition for water resources. Plus there are emerging contaminates.
Many water systems rely on chlorination or other chemical systems to treat water, but some worry about the reactions with chemicals present in the water being treated and the wear and tear on infrastructure. Two of the speakers promoted using carbon to treat water because it captures all chemicals from pesticides, herbicides, pharmaceuticals, personal care products, including chemicals or chemical precursors that may not be currently regulated.
“If you as elected officials know that there is a harmful pesticide in your drinking water supply, but just because it’s not regulated you don’t have to do anything about it, that’s wrong,” said Robert Bowcock, president of Integrated Research Management. “If you know about it, why wait the 12 years for it to show up on your doorstep as a new rule when you can treat it now and get ahead of this problem.”
What stands in the way of installing carbon systems is, more often than not, cost. Chairman of the legislative committee, Senator Scott Hutchinson, said regulatory constraints may also be an issue. He said as populations continue to grow and new water treatment facilities are built or old ones updated, it’s important to have knowledge of all options available.