When you pour some cool tap water into a glass on a warm fall afternoon, enjoy a shower after a long day of work or throw a load of clothes in your washing machine, chances are that you are not thinking about the quality of your water. And that’s the goal. Teams of highly skilled water quality experts at your local water agency regularly test your water thousands of times per year to ensure that it is meeting some of the highest water quality standards in the world before it comes to your home.

Whether you live in New York or right here in California, the quality of your water is governed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires all public water systems to notify customers annually regarding the quality of the water they receive. In addition, each state has stringent standards for water that each water agency must adhere to.

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Here are four more reasons why tap water quality can be trusted

Reason #1: Tap water beats out bottled water when it comes to safety

In fact, tap water that comes to our home undergoes many more tests than bottled water. That is because of the national Safe Drinking Water Act, which requires water agencies to conduct extensive water quality testing by certified laboratories. Our drinking water is not only regulated by the national Safe Drinking Water Act but also is regulated by the State Water Resources Control Board – Division of Drinking Water (DDW). Conversely, bottled water does not need to meet these same rigorous standards, is often tested less frequently than tap water and the leaching of the plastic bottle the water comes in is not tested.

Reason #2: Water quality is transparently communicated

Each year before the water reaches your tap, it is tested and treated thousands of times to ensure that it meets or surpasses rigorous state and nationwide water-quality standards. These results are legally required to be shared annually with customers by mail or online. The reports for the prior year are available after July 1 and provide customers with detailed information on the quality of their drinking water, including how much lead and copper is in the water, special health concerns, public health goals and maximum contaminant levels.

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Reason #3: Investments in water technology and treatment

Water agencies are constantly adopting the latest technology and treatment options to monitor the quality of your water. For instance, when it comes to groundwater Orange County Water District (OCWD) has become the first public agency laboratory to achieve state certification to analyze per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

As technology for testing continues to improve, it allows water agencies to detect and treat for substances, such as PFAS, at a faster rate. “We continue to proactively monitor and protect our groundwater supply and look for ways to assist our regional producers with opportunities to provide some of the cleanest drinking water in the world,” said OCWD’s Executive Director of Water Quality & Technical Resources Jason Dadakis.

Reason #4: Water has Set Maximum Contaminant Levels and Public Health Goals

The EPA sets maximum contaminant levels (MCL) for drinking water to keep water safe. When contaminants in water exceed the MCL, this information must be reported to customers and the state. It is also noted in the annual Water Quality Report.

Public Health Goals, on the other hand, are set by the state and established based on extensive testing – even studying the impacts on people who have been exposed to certain contaminants. While these goals are instrumental in guiding drinking water laws and protecting human health, it is important to note they are not legal limits. A whole team of experts works together to determine Public Health Goals, including toxicologists, epidemiologists, physicians, biostatisticians and research scientists.

There are numerous tests our water goes through to ensure it meets in-depth water quality testing before making its way to our homes. For questions about your water agency’s water quality report, visit their website or contact them to receive a copy.

When it comes to water news in Southern California, the drought dominated headlines for several years. But having enough water for everyone who lives and works here isn’t the only water concern we face. Our water needs to be clean, too. We expect that when we turn on our kitchen sinks, the water that flows out is consistently clean and safe for cooking, cleaning and drinking.

The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA) Basin Monitoring Program Task Force works collectively to share resources and monitor surface and groundwater quality in the Santa Ana River Watershed. As home to approximately 6 million people, residents and businesses throughout the region rely in part on groundwater from the Santa Ana River Watershed (the natural ecological system including the river and its tributaries) and the five water agencies that comprise SAWPA. These five water agencies – Eastern Municipal Water District, Inland Empire Utilities Agency, Orange County Water District, San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District, and Western Municipal Water District – collaborate on water projects and programs affecting the watershed to bring clean water to businesses and homes.

SAWPA administers task forces like the Basin Monitoring Program Task Force, a 20-agency task force formed 15 years ago, to monitor nitrogen and total dissolved solids (TDS) for water quality compliance in the Santa Ana River Watershed. Excessive nitrogen and TDS can impact drinking water. Too much nitrogen can stimulate growth of algae in water. TDS are the concentrations of solids in water. Both nitrogen and TDSs need to be monitored in order to ensure that Orange County water resources downstream are protected.

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The Task Force brings together key cities and water agencies as well as the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, this region’s local water quality regulatory agency, to work together on the complex job of monitoring and improving water quality. Task Force members include the cities of Banning, Beaumont, Corona, Redlands, Rialto, Riverside and the Jurupa Community Services District, plus the following water agencies:

  • Beaumont-Cherry Valley Water District
  • Chino Basin Watermaster
  • Colton/San Bernardino Regional Tertiary Treatment and Wastewater Reclamation
  • Eastern Municipal Water District
  • Elsinore Valley Municipal Water District
  • Inland Empire Utilities Agency
  • Irvine Ranch Water District
  • Temescal Valley Water District
  • Orange County Water District
  • San Bernardino Valley Municipal Water District
  • San Gorgonio Pass Water Agency
  • Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board
  • West Riverside County Regional Wastewater Authority
  • Yucaipa Valley Water District

The Task Force compiles and collects monitoring data to evaluate water quality annually and the groundwater basins throughout the watershed every three years; provides guidance on wastewater treatment plant discharge permits; and conducts additional water quality studies to monitor and evaluate salt and nitrate trends.

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By bringing so many cities and water agencies together every month for meetings over the past 15 years, this Task Force has built relationships and greatly improved efficiencies in water and wastewater operations through joint studies on dealing with salt in the water. The Task Force also saves its members millions of dollars due to collaboration and economies of scale.

The Basin Monitoring Program Task Force is a success because the members understand that we have only one Santa Ana River Watershed to share and the water in it belongs to everyone, now and in the future.

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Earthquakes are a reality for over 39 million residents living in California. While the state is known for its beautiful beaches, glamorous Hollywood scene and nature, it’s difficult to think about California and not make the connection with earthquakes. With the recent quakes, many Californians are reminded of this eminent reality, but are they prepared?

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The Southern Earthquake Center developed the Community Fault Model database and has documented over 140 faults considered capable of producing moderate to large earthquakes in the state. In fact, Southern California’s recent string of earthquakes has kickstarted conversations surrounding preparedness for the next “big one.”

In the case of an earthquake, your water agency will provide you with the necessary information regarding the safety of the water that you receive at your home. It’s important to heed warnings from them and follow safety information provided. During an earthquake, infrastructure can be damaged, which can create a disruption in service or possible contamination.

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According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are three main phases to prepare for a disaster such as a moderate or large earthquake which include:

Step One: Protecting yourself before an earthquake

Step Two: Protecting yourself during an earthquake

Step Three: Protecting yourself after an earthquake

FEMA elaborates on what it takes to protect yourself before an earthquake. Although no one wants to imagine a scenario where an earthquake causes a disaster scenario, it is best to be prepared for yourself, your family and pets. Assembling an emergency kit is crucial for earthquake preparedness and should first and foremost include water. FEMA states that you should “Ensure you have at least 1 gallon of water per person per day for at least 3 days. (Store a longer than 3-day supply of water, if possible). An average person needs to drink about 3/4 of a gallon of fluid daily. Individual needs vary depending on age, gender, health, level of activity, food choices, and climate. You may also need stored water for food preparation.” Essentially, make sure you have enough stored water readily accessible and saved only for emergencies that is sufficient to cover your household’s most basic needs.

Moreover, the Centers for Disease Control established guidelines to follow regarding best practices for safe tap water usage after a natural disaster, such as a large earthquake. Under Things you should do, the CDC lists the following after an earthquake:

  • Listen for announcements from local officials to find out what to do. They will tell you if there are bacteria and/or chemicals in the water.
  • Boil water, if instructed. Boil it for at least 1 minute (start counting when the water comes to a constant boil). Let the water cool sufficiently before drinking. Boiling kills germs in the water.
  • Use bottled water, if instructed. Sometimes after a disaster, there may be chemicals in the water that boiling cannot remove.
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Public utility agencies understand the threat that earthquakes pose to water supplies and work diligently to have emergency plans in place. Be sure to have a personal plan in place for your household too, and make sure that water is a top priority.

A task force encourages collaboration among multiple agencies to tackle challenges in a cooperative manner. The Santa Ana Watershed Project Association (SAWPA) facilitates several task forces in order to take on complex matters that are more effectively handled collectively.

In 2008, SAWPA organized the Emerging Constituents Task Force in an effort to work with the Regional Water Quality Resources Control Board and help improve water quality along the Santa Ana River Watershed.   The 21-agency Task Force identifies emerging constituents of concern, which can include, chemicals of emerging concern, microconstituents, micropollutants, trace organics and other elements. The voluntary testing conducted by the Task Force investigates pharmaceuticals, pesticides, food additives and chemicals that may not yet have established water quality standards. By testing for emerging constituents, the Task Force is able to evaluate water quality in the Santa Ana River, in imported water, as well as in recycled water.

Emerging Constituents Task Force Goal: Assure water quality protection resulting from imported water recharge

  • Conduct regional evaluation of emerging constituents in drinking water sources
  • Identify the potential regulatory issues that may arise as result of emerging constituents data
  • Create an emerging constituent characterization programs as needed
  • Continue to educate the public about the safety of potable drinking water

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The Task Force used a two-phase approach to first investigate the potential contaminants in the water and then later identifying them. Beginning with researching potential regulatory issues associated with sampling and later investigating which constituents to monitor, the Task Force works to ensure that water that water quality is monitored. By partnering with water quality experts, SAWPA and the Task Force are able to determine the locations and constituents for testing. In February 2019, the Task Force reconvened to discuss prior testing results and determine what constituents will be monitored in the following round of tests.

Water testing can be costly, by working collaboratively, Task Force agencies cost-share the financial responsibility, as well as have access to the data needed for sampling and reporting of constituents. The Task Force was instrumental in working with the State Board’s Blue Ribbon Panel to develop statewide monitoring requirements for emerging constituents. In 2013, the State Board amended the state’s Recycled Water Policy to the adopt the recommendations made by the Emerging Constituents Task Force.

As part of the Task Force, outreach to build awareness on the safety of tap water is implemented. Through this blog and its social media channels, SAWPA and the task Force utilizes these tools to educate on the topic of water quality.

In the Santa Ana River Watershed, water distributed to customers by water purveyors undergoes regular, rigorous testing to ensure it is meeting all state and federal standards.

Up next in ensuring that water continues to meet these high standards set forth in the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Act is the monitoring of per- and polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) substances, which include perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and many other chemicals.

The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA) – led Emerging Constituents Program Task Force, which includes the Orange County Water District and the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Control Board, along with roughly 20 other agencies in the Santa Ana River Watershed will be compiling independent data on PFAS.

The samples will be collected from all upstream wastewater treatment plant discharges into the Santa Ana River and its tributaries, as well as imported water released to the upper watershed to ensure that data is made available not solely from Orange County, but from the upper Santa Ana River Watershed. The data compiled will be shared with the Santa Ana Regional Water Quality Board as a sampling report of the PFAS concentrations, as well as an update on a past list of emerging constituents sampled in the watershed seven years ago.

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But, what are PFAS substances and what do they have to do with our water supply?

PFAS are fluorinated organic chemicals used to make items such as carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture and paper packaging for food. Additionally, they were used for firefighting at airfields and in a number of industrial processes.  These chemicals are resistant to heat, water, and oil and have been used for decades in hundreds of industrial applications and consumer products. PFAS have been found both in the environment and in blood samples of the general U.S. population.

Although certain PFAS chemicals are no longer manufactured in the United States as a result of phase outs, they are still produced internationally and can be imported into the country in consumer goods. And, due to the prolonged use of PFOA and PFOS in many common consumer products, the chemicals have been known to enter the water cycle through conventionally treated wastewater discharges from sewage treatment facilities, landfills and locations where the substances were used outdoors.

Most people have been exposed to these chemicals through consumer products, but drinking water can be an additional source of exposure in communities where these chemicals have entered water supplies.  Research has shown that these chemicals don’t break down in the environment, can linger in the human body, and can lead to adverse health effects.

The EPA is working together to support states, tribes and local communities to address the environmental challenges of PFAS and identify solutions.

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Orange County Water District’s Proactive Testing of PFAS.

Orange County Water District’s (OCWD) forward-thinking team of early adopters began testing for PFAS in 2012. This testing of water from OCWD’s Groundwater Replenishment System (GRWS) showed then and continues to show now that the final water produced at the GWRS is non-detect for PFOA and PFOS.

From 2013-2015, OCWD also performed testing for Orange County groundwater retail agencies for Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR) 3. PFOA and PFOS were among the six PFAS compounds on the UCMR 3 Contaminant List. The UCMR data serve as a primary source of occurrence and exposure information that EPA uses to develop regulatory decisions. After the completion of UCMR3, in May 2016 the EPA issued a new Health Advisory for lifetime exposure to PFOA and PFOS in drinking water set at a combined 70 nanograms per liter (ng/L).  A nanogram is also known as a “part-per-trillion” and one nanogram per liter is the equivalent of four grains of sugar dissolved in 26 Olympic-sized swimming pools. Based on preliminary information from EPA, 63 water suppliers in the United States detected PFOA and PFOS in their drinking water supplies. Twenty-six of these water systems are located in California. Water systems in Orange County heeded the advisory and only serve water that meets that threshold.

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The California Division of Drinking Water (DDW) sent monitoring orders in March 2019 to over 200 public water systems across the state to test for PFAS, including PFOA and PFOS; 12 systems in the Orange County Water District service area received such orders.  Earlier this year, OCWD’s Philip L. Anthony Water Quality Laboratory became the first public agency laboratory in California to achieve state certification to analyze for these compounds in drinking water. The first round of testing is expected to be completed in June and required notifications will be made to local government officials by July.  Additional testing will be conducted on a quarterly basis.  Wells were selected based on proximity to either landfills, municipal airports, or past detections of PFAS in wells during the UCMR 3 round of testing.  The data provided by this testing will help DDW determine state standards for PFOA and PFOS in drinking water.

In July 2018, DDW established interim Notification Levels and Response Levels for PFOA and PFOS. Results above these levels requires agencies to notify the governing body for the areas where the water has been served within 30 days of receiving the verifying test results.  State Notification Levels are set at 14 ng/L for PFOA and 13 ng/L for PFOS.  If the level of both PFOA and PFOS combined is 70 ng/L or above, DDW recommends the agency stop using the well. This is known as the Response Level.

“We continue to proactively monitor and protect our groundwater supply and look for ways to assist our regional water producers with opportunities to provide some of the cleanest drinking water in the world,” said OCWD’s Executive Director of Water Quality & Technical Resources, Jason Dadakis.  “The information available about PFAS and the technology for testing continues to improve.  OCWD is committed to staying current with changing technology for both detection and treatment.”
Next Steps for OCWD

Groundwater monitoring and public health are top priorities for OCWD, and the district continues to monitor and protect the groundwater supply through:

  • Assisting producers to comply with requirements from the Department of Drinking Water and EPA
  • Supporting water producers with notifications, testing and coordination as needed
  • Continuing to work with the Regional Water Quality Board and independent labs to further test to identify potential sources
  • Coordinating to monitor to define the extent of compounds in the groundwater basin and recharge water supplies
  • Pilot testing of remediation options
  • Communicating transparently and regularly with stakeholders

For more information about PFOA/PFOS or water quality testing, visit www.ocwd.com or contact your local water provider for information specific to your community.  Information is also available at www.epa.gov/pfas and www.waterboards.ca.gov/drinking_water/certlic/drinkingwater/PFOA_PFOS.