Meet Allison Mackenzie, a woman with thirty years’ experience in water science. She works for Babcock Labs, the laboratory that tests water for Western Municipal Water District (and other clients throughout Southern California). Allison is a graduate of the University of California at Riverside and started with Babcock right out of school as a chemist doing various water tests. Today, she is the CEO of the company.

Allison has worked for Babcock Labs for 30 years. She has two daughters.

Allison has worked for Babcock Labs for 30 years. She has two daughters.

Question: Do you drink tap water yourself? Would you recommend that others do so?

Allison: Yes, I do. When I am asked for an opinion, I always advocate for tap water…it is a true bargain in this expensive world.

Q: Should people feel comfortable giving tap water to their kids?

A: I have two daughters and tap water is what we drink. I know how much the water in California is tested and the quality standards it must meet and I have always felt confident drinking our tap water and giving it to my family.

Q: What water do you test?

A: Our microbiology department provides testing for bacteria in the water on a daily basis. Testing for harmful bacteria is vitally important for ensuring the public health. Other chemical tests are also performed regularly on treated drinking water, raw source water, and wastewater—both untreated and treated.

Q: Who do you report your findings to?

A: The answer really depends on what kind of water and what the data is being used for. If we are testing drinking water, we report to the drinking water quality staff at water districts such as WMWD and these results are also given to the California Department of Public Health Drinking Water Branch engineers. If we are testing water from a waste reclamation plant, we are reporting to the sanitation engineers at the District’s facility and they also report the data to the local Regional Water Quality Control Board staff.

Tap water, groundwater, and waste water are tested daily and the results are reported to many different agencies on a regular basis. Photo credit: Ben Husmann

Tap water, groundwater, and waste water are tested daily and the results are reported to many different agencies on a regular basis. Photo credit: Ben Husmann

Q: It sounds like there are a lot of fail-safes – many organizations get the same water-quality data. Does this make the public any safer?

A: Well, of course I think the public is protected. It is in the water agency’s best interest to protect the public.

Q: What kind of rules and regulations do water companies have to follow to ensure that water is safe?

A: Water agencies follow very strict rules about monitoring water quality and reporting their findings. Drinking water tests are run frequently by the laboratory to ensure the water supply is safe and the public health is protected. If any dangerous bacteria are found, it is reported immediately by the water agency to the consumer and to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Normal results are reported to the water agency and the CDPH as frequently as daily, weekly and monthly. Normal results are sent to the consumer every year in the water district’s Consumer Confidence Report also called an Annual Water Quality Report. WMWD’s CCRs are available on line for anyone to read.

Q: So, to be clear, the law requires water agencies to immediately notify the public if something is wrong?

A: Yes, the water agency is required by law to notify the public if something is wrong.

EMWD Tour - Sample

Water agencies are required by law to immediately notify the public if something is wrong.

Q: Some environmental groups have suggested that drinking water is not safe. You and other people that work in the water business believe that the numbers they quote from are misleading. Could you explain why in your own words?

A: One environmental organization ran a story a couple of years ago that said that water in Riverside was some of the worst drinking water in America. The numbers that I have seen quoted as “higher than allowable levels” are NOT in our drinking water, they are in some groundwater that is either never used for drinking purposes, or groundwater before it is treated to remove the harmful chemical.

There are several sources that they used to suggest that the drinking water is not safe. Groundwater quality has been monitored and information collected for many, many years. The water quality databases have been created for use by various public health agencies, scientists, and researchers and the water quality data is a matter of public record. But when using the data stored in these databases, it is important to know whether it represents the drinking water in the tap or a groundwater source that is never used.

Q: In your opinion, why is it taking several years to come up with a regulated standard for hexavalent chromium at the state level? Is there an intentional delay, or does it actually take years to come up with a standard?

When setting the legal limit for a chemical, the State must take into account whether scientists can test for such a small amount. Modern machines like this one make testing such small amounts possible.

When setting the legal limit for a chemical, the State must take into account whether scientists can test for such a small amount. Modern machines like this one make testing such small amounts possible.

A: My only comments are that a regulatory standard should be based on sound science and a thoughtful, rigorous process. Politics and public opinion, while important considerations, are not substitutes for a methodical scientific approach. Everyone would like it to happen faster, but the reality is that it takes time to collect the data, evaluate the data, and to investigate all the pieces of the puzzle.

As it turns out, the EPA is about to start collecting data about hexavalent chromium in drinking water on a national level. Before it can be regulated on a national level, we must know how much of it is out there and where it is. To give you an idea of how long it can take, this project will last for six years. My lab will be working on it – I am proud to say that we are one of only a handful of labs that have been chosen to do so. The information from the this project, along with other health effects studies also under way, are part of that methodical scientific approach to setting an MCL for hexavalent chromium.

Q: There have been some questions about how toxic hexavalent chromium is. Could you tell us a bit about that?

A: We have known for a long time that hexavalent chromium causes cancer when inhaled, but there had been questions about whether or not it causes cancer when ingested through drinking. The acid in our stomachs actually turns hexavalent chromium (or chrom-6) into trivalent chromium (chrom-3), which can be beneficial to us. However, the question is, how much hexavalent chromium can we ingest without overwhelming our stomach acid? The point at which chrom-6 is toxic when ingested is likely to be associated with that level, and that is the question that scientists are trying to answer.

EMWD Tour - Michelle Karras 1

Legal limits on chemicals in water should be set through a methodical scientific process.

Q: Scientists at the California Department of Public Health have said that they had to establish a Public Health Goal for chrom-6 before they could establish a Maximum Contaminant Level. What is the difference between a public health goal and the actual regulated standard? Why is there a difference? 

A: The water we get from the tap has to be tested regularly to meet legal health requirements. Here in California the regulations are as strict, if not stricter, than the federal drinking water requirements. The regulations set Maximum Contaminant Levels, or MCLs, for a long list of chemicals so that the public will be protected. It is easy to find these MCLs and how your drinking water measures up on your annual consumer confidence report.

There are other numbers known as public health goals, or PHGs, that are non-regulatory. They are set using studies and statistics. Public Health Goals represent the amount of a chemical that does not pose a significant risk to public health over a lifetime of exposure. These numbers do not take into account whether or not scientists can detect the chemical at so low a level or whether or not the technology exists to remove that much of the chemical from water.

After a Public Health Goal is set, scientists use it to set the MCL, or the level of purity that water companies must meet on a regular basis. State law requires that an MCL should be set as close to the Public Health Goal as possible. At this point, though, scientists must take into account practical concerns like whether or not technology exists to remove trace amounts of the chemical. That is why the two are very different.

Q: Thank you Allison, we appreciate your time.

A: My pleasure. 

You can learn more about Babcock Labs and what they do on their Facebook Page.

Let’s face it – when kids get thirsty, the first thing they reach for is soda and juice. Unfortunately, those are packed full of sugar, which can cause health problems like obesity and diabetes. California’s “First 5” recommends water and milk as the best choices kids can make. Here are five ways to get them to make that choice happily.

Image

Diet is important for keeping kids healthy, but too often we forget that what they drink is just as important as what they eat. Photo Credit: Erik Hersman

Putting water in the fridge makes it a visible option for kids.

Putting water in the fridge makes it a visible option for kids.

1) Chill It – Put tap water in a pitcher and put it in the refrigerator, right next to the milk. We chill just about every other drink – why not water? It will also give kids a visible option when they open the fridge.

Chilling water can also make it taste better to your kids. The colder a drink is, the less we taste it, and we tend to like water to taste crisp and fresh.

Restaurants "dress up" tap water to make it more chic.

Restaurants “dress up” tap water to make it more chic.

2) Dress It Up for Dinner – Hip restaurants are now serving tap water in vintage looking glass bottles. It makes the water look more special and desirable. If you have older kids, buy a cute glass bottle, fill it with tap water, and put it on the table for dinner. You may find them reaching for it themselves! While little ones and glass don’t mix, a fun plastic pitcher might be just the thing – even have them help pick one out for the family.

Food companies are masters at packaging. All the fun colors and pictures are a part of what makes sugary soda and juice look so desirable. By putting  water in cute bottles or their favorite Mickey glass, you are doing the same thing – and encouraging healthy habits.

Fizzy is fun! Photo Credit: d_pham

Fizzy is fun! Photo Credit: d_pham

3) Make It Fizzy – Soda is fun because it’s fizzy, and water can be too! While you can purchase bottled sparkling water, that option can get quite expensive. Another solution is to buy a carbonator like Soda Stream, which lets you add carbonation to water. Usually, they sell it as a way to make your own soda cheaper, but by skipping the step of adding soda syrup, so can make as much sparkling water as your heart desires at a fraction of the cost.

Carbonators available on the market:

(Note: Listing a carbonator in this article does not suggest an endorsement)

“Having the Fizz Without the Guilt” by Marion Burros of The New York Times which ran in October of 2007

Soda Stream from Bed Bath & Beyond

Do you know of any other carbonation machines? Please let us know about them in the comments section below!

Set the example! Photo Credit: eyeliam

Set the example! Photo Credit: eyeliam

4) Set the Example – We all know that kids will do what we do, not just what we say. Make sure that you choose water for yourself! If you are not ready to kick the soda and juice habit altogether, try having a glass of water with any other drink at meals and encourage (or require) your kids to do the same. You may all benefit – especially since water helps with weight loss by filling you up without any extra calories (meaning you may eat less).

Skip soda, limit portions, or serve only for special occaisions. Photo Credit - nicoleec

Skip soda, limit portions, or serve only for special occaisions. Photo Credit – nicoleec

5) Out of Sight, Out of Mind – Like adults, kids reach for whatever is available. Remove sugary temptations from the fridge. If you are not wanting to eliminate them, then set boundaries by making soda and juice something for a special occasion, like the weekends or as a reward for good behavior or good grades. Sometimes, banning things outright makes kids only want them more, so simply limiting access may be the way to go. You can control portions by opting for cans – big or small – over two liter bottles, and chilling only a certain amount (say, they are allowed three per week, whenever they choose). Each Sunday, you put three sodas in the fridge for each kid and that’s all they get until the next Sunday. Write their names on the cans to prevent any misunderstandings or disagreements.

One last thought: Another benefit to switching from soda and juice to water is that it saves money – as long as you don’t fall into the bottled water trap. The United States has some of the safest tap water in the world, and the laws regulating the safety of tap water are much more strict than those for bottled. In fact, many bottled water brands simply bottle tap water and sell it to you at more than 1,000 times the price. So tap is the cheapest and best option for your family.

MSN: Partner in Water Conservation

MSN Living knows that conserving water conserves your cash. In an article on saving money in the New Year, titled “100 Ways to Save Money in 2013,” they mention water five times. Thanks for being a partner in water conservation, MSN!

Brushing Teeth - Photo Credit - Dominic Sayers

It’s never too early to learn good habits! Photo Credit: Dominic Sayers

#6: Turn off the Tap When Brushing Your Teeth

We’ve all heard it a million times, but MSN gets to the point fast: “The reasons are two-fold: conservation and cost-effectiveness.” They couldn’t be more right. We are all supposed to brush our teeth for two minutes, morning and night. According to MSN’s math, that adds up to “eight gallons of water a day, and over 2,900 gallons a year. The money will flood in when you turn off the faucet. (Not literally.)”

#9: Use Cold Water to Wash the Laundry

Photo Credit: Sean Freese

Photo Credit: Sean Freese

While using cold water does not necessarily save water, it saves the energy you would use to heat the water. Plus, washing dark clothes in cold water means the colors are less likely to bleed. MSN notes that washing laundry in hot water costs 68 cents per load whereas washing it in cold water costs only 4 cents per load. When you consider how much laundry the average family does each year, the savings are exponential.

Photo Credit: Liz West

Photo Credit: Liz West

#11: Skip the Bottled Water

Most bottled water comes from the same place as your tap water, all you pay for is the marketing. We forget that most people laughed when bottled water was first introduced into the marketplace – now we spend $15 billion a year on it, with the average person buying 167 bottles a year (according to MSN). That’s a lot of water you could have gotten for less than 2 cents a gallon.

Photo Credit: Pedro Reyna

Photo Credit: Pedro Reyna

#57: Use Your Dishwasher

We know it can be confusing – is it greener to use the dishwasher or to wash it by hand? As long as the dishwasher is full, you are good to go – especially if the chore of hand washing falls to a less-than-happy kid who is not looking for ways to save on your water bill.

 

Photo Credit: The Italian Voice

Photo Credit: The Italian Voice

#64: Wash Your Hair Every Other Day

Okay, the grunge look is over, and that is not what we’re suggesting. Some types of hair actually do better when washed less often. Shampoos can strip your hair of natural oil it needs to be healthy. Plus, constant blow-drying and styling can further damage your hair. So, with a shorter shower and all that styling avoided, you may find yourself with a little extra time to sleep in every other morning.

To hear the other 95 money-saving tips that MSN Living offers up for the New Year, follow this link: http://living.msn.com/life-inspired/100-ways-to-save-money-in-2013

How We Get Our Water

This excellent video from Curiosity Quest explores how local water companies right here in Southern California make sure we all have clean, fresh water every day. It covers where our water comes from, how it is stored, and how it gets to our homes. It was created in response to a young girl named Fern from Pomona, California, who asked what would happen if people keep wasting Earth’s natural resources, like water.

The Water Education and Water Awareness Committee (WEWAC) partnered with the show’s producers to make this episode happen. The committee is a partnership between the following water agencies: the cities of Chino, Chino Hills, Glendora, La Verne, Pomona and Upland, the Cucamonga Valley Water District, Fontana Water Company, inland Empire Utilities Agency, Monte Vista Water District, Ontario Municipal Utilities Company, Rowland Water District, and Three Valleys Water District. To learn more about that partnership and about water conservation, go to usewaterwisely.com

Amy’s five kids with their baby cousin.

Keeping hydrated is more and more important as the summer heats up. While sugary soda and juice abound, kids may not be as enthusiastic as they should about drinking just plain water. Still, it’s important that they do so that they can stay hydrated without unnecessary sugar, which can lead to diseases like diabetes – not to mention exhausting sugar highs.

For tips on getting kids to choose water, we sat down with mother-of-five Amy Moreno:

Q: So, how do you get your kids to drink water over sugary stuff?

A: Well, I think the biggest thing to do is set an example. They want to drink what I’m drinking – a lot of times out of my glass. So if I’m drinking water, they are too.

Q: What about when they have their own cups?

A: They like to drink water cold, with plenty of ice. Most adults like it better that way too, so why should kids be any different? Especially when it’s hot outside.

Q: How do you get them to choose water at dinnertime?

A: Don’t forget to list it as an option!

We’ve also heard from a parent who gives their kids a choice between soda and desert (which makes sense, considering the amount of sugar can be the same). That also teaches kids to think about the two as having similar amounts of sugar, so that they can develop good habits as grow up.