Regulatory agencies set, and ensure compliance with, standards. Waterworks projects should be reviewed and, once approved, should have conditions to be met clearly outlined. Treatment plants should be inspected on an on-going basis to ensure quality benchmarks are being met. If these benchmarks are not being met, processes should be in place to remediate the situation. Compliance tools will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
The proper maintenance and operation of water supply, treatment and distribution systems are essential parts of any effort to ensure the on-going production and delivery of the highest quality drinking water possible. Operational procedures vary between treatment plants and between jurisdictions, but, generally speaking, operational-related monitoring requirements should be in place and clear; plants should be supervised by trained and certified operators; operator training programs should be available; facilities should be inspected on a regular basis; and administrative support should be available.
Monitoring drinking water quality occurs on a number of levels. Protocols should be in place for all activities, including selection of laboratories, routine monitoring, sample analysis and public notification, and may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In general, monitoring requirements are specified by regulatory agencies.
Routine monitoring entails taking samples of raw water at the intake, water at the treatment plant or from wells, and treated water in the distribution system at predetermined intervals to verify the quality of the water.Monitoring results should be reported directly to the drinking water authority as well as be available to the public. As mentioned previously, it is imperative for a reporting system to be in place for notifying the public when test results show drinking water presents a potentially serious health risk, or to explain the significance of changes in aesthetic quality. It is particularly important to have protocols in place dealing with the microbiological quality of the drinking water.
Other types of monitoring include on-going assessment of the location of sampling sites. Because samples are taken from such a small fraction of the water in any given system, as much as possible should be done to ensure the water in the samples is representative of the quality of the water throughout the plant and distribution system. In order to quickly remediate situations where water flow appears to be restricted, it is imperative that up-to-date drawings of the distribution system be kept in an accessible location.
Treatment plants may opt to use computer technology to help monitor water quality and operational variables (such as water pressure) on an automated basis. In addition, in order to facilitate the exchange of information about the water supply, jurisdictions may wish to set up databases which can be accessed by multiple users. More and more, members of the public are expecting to be able to access information over the Internet about their water supply which may affect their health.
Because treatment plant and distribution system operators have a significant degree of control over the quality of a community's drinking water, and thus over public health, appropriate and up-to-date training is essential. This training must include basic education about the need for disinfection to ensure public health goals are met.
Drinking water supplies in Canada and the United States are classified into categories based on size and complexity of operation. These classifications are used as the basis for training and certification programs for treatment plant operators.
Operator certification programs should be available to ensure treatment plant operators have appropriate levels of education, experience and knowledge to allow them to competently operate the type of plant they are working in.
It is imperative that operators and other staff have on-going access to opportunities for maintaining and upgrading their skills and knowledge on a regular basis.
Every system must have a set of procedures to follow in the event of incidents and emergencies. These procedures should be in place well in advance of any event. Plans should cover off any number of incidents, such as loss of source water, major main breaks, vandalism, power failure and deliberate chemical or biological contamination of the distribution system or reservoirs. Emergency plans should include clear procedures for the remediation of the situation and communication with appropriate authorities.
Any system as large and important as delivering clean, safe and reliable drinking water requires evaluation to ensure services are being delivered as planned and expected. For Canadian drinking water programs, evaluations verify that the elements detailed in this framework have been implemented properly and are being carried out effectively. The results of the evaluation are used as the basis for making improvements in future years.
Formal auditing can be carried out in the following areas:
The public has expectations of government transparency, especially about issues that affect its health. As noted earlier, public involvement in the drinking water program is key to its success. Involving the public at every stage means:
In the area of boil water advisories, members of the public must be informed when an advisory has been issued for their community, be given detailed information about the reason(s) for the advisory (whether it is precautionary or in response to an outbreak), and be told how long it is expected to be in place. Authorities should also consider visitors to their community when issuing an advisory - frequent advertising in highly visible areas may be prudent.
Private well owners need to be made aware that they are responsible for the quality of their own water, and that this should be tested regularly. This also applies to owners of private surface waters who use these as a source of drinking water. Owners need to know what to do should microbiological contamination occur or chemical contaminants be found in their drinking water, and how to properly abandon wells that are no longer safe or needed.