Tap into water that’s better than bottled

Bottled water is literally thousands of times more expensive than tap water. Does that expense bring safer, better-quality water to the workplace?

At home and in public places, about a third of Americans regularly reach for the blue-tinted bottles. When asked about those purchase decisions, 90% of consumers cite safety and quality concerns. Bottled water is no less popular at U.S. workplaces, where an average expense of $7 per five-gallon water bottle finds its way to the balance sheet. Office water service for 10-20 employees averages $125 per month.

That recurring expense may be one to reconsider. Let’s look closer at the issues and options of water treatment, distribution, packaging, and cost:

WATER TREATMENT

Water treatment plantBefore water reaches any building or bottle, it must be analyzed, purified, and tested. Since 1974, federal and state regulatory agencies have —

  • Set limits on drinking water contaminant levels
  • Required the monitoring and reporting of contaminant levels measured in public water systems
  • Established uniform guidelines for water treatment technologies, ensuring that water is cleaned of unsafe pollutant levels.

Governed by those regulations, larger municipalities operate multi-million-dollar facilities. There, water is purified through processes that include pre and post disinfection, coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, and filtration. Water resource engineers and drinking water operators staff the treatment plants 24/7. After the water is treated, drinking water distribution operators and engineers perform frequent bacteriological and contaminant sampling to ensure safety.

To achieve regulatory requirements, smaller communities lacking the facilities and personnel of municipal plants may consolidate their systems with those of neighboring communities. Where water quality improvements exceed one local budget, consolidation strategies can produce an economy of scale:

  • Physically interconnecting adjacent community systems
  • Regional management consolidation
  • Coordinating bulk purchases of chemicals and spare parts
  • Collaborating on the deployment of technical support when and where needed.

Information from nearly 50,000 communities of all sizes is available online , searchable by zip code. The database was compiled after 32 million drinking water tests for 525 contaminants. Any concentrations of contaminants are reported and compared to federal legal limits and health guidelines.

DISTRIBUTION

Water that leaves a treatment plant is further tested by additional licensed operators. The tests look for coliform bacteria, lead, copper and an array of other organic and inorganic contaminants. Any sample outside of control limits will trigger remediation that begins immediately, followed by retesting.

Water infrastructureWell-publicized water crises such as Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey have raised alarm nationwide. Outdated infrastructure infused lead into the water supply for many homes, requiring costly mitigation, temporary solutions, and long-term infrastructure replacement. As of November 2018, as many as 6.1 million lead service lines connected water mains to building plumbing. The then-current rate of replacement of those service lines in the “last mile” from municipal sources was 0.5% (or 30,000) per year.

Testing supervised by a state certification officer through a certified lab will red-flag the “last mile” risks of lead and other contaminants. Bulk waterborne pathogen tests take safety a step further to protect immunocompromised persons from Legionella and other bacteria, especially at hospitals and nursing care facilities. Life-threatening issues due to tap water consumption are unlikely to occur, but any possibility of a dangerous contaminant in potable water makes thorough testing necessary.

Within pipes, the quality of the water degrades over time. That becomes a significant concern when maintaining or assessing building water systems. Older systems might house substantial biofilms, making a program to thoroughly flush the pipes an essential precaution. Even in new construction, a similar consistent program is an important public safety measure which should be completed before the building is occupied.

For buildings old and new, pipe-flushing programs should take into account both the water consumption and the hazard mitigated. A final step in any of the programs is to validate the results through environmental sampling.

PACKAGING

Regardless of source, filtration, or other processing, bottled water delivers more than H20. People who drink only bottled water might swallow 90,000 microplastic particles with their water each year. That compares with just 4,000 for tap water drinkers. In the United States, average microplastic intake is 74,000–121,000 particles per year.

COSTS

5-gallon water bottlesIn the U.S., the substantial profit of bottled water sales has led to an $18.5 billion industry. Compare that to the average of $3.38 per thousand gallons that municipal water system charged in 2016. Instead of wrestling with expensive 5-gallon bottles, municipal water can be brought in through service lines, filtered, and served hot or cold for a fraction (19-25%) of one cent per thousand gallons.

No organization or individual should pay 300 times more than necessary. As the nation’s drinking-water infrastructure improves wherever drinking water is treated, distributed, and tested in accordance with well-defined regulations. Modern water processing unit operations deliver safe, good-tasting water to the “last mile”. After certified lab testing, a much lower-cost and healthy alternative can be enjoyed with peace of mind.

[1] FoodAndWaterWatch.org
[2] PriceItHere.com
[3] Water Treatment Plant Operation – A Field Study Training Program, Volume II, Sixth Edition, 2015 – ISBN: 978-1-59371-068-2
[4] MeetingOfTheMinds.org
[5] EWG.org
[6] CBSNews.com
[7] Nature.com
[8] TheBalance.com
[9] 12 examples of point of service water coolers (FilterWater.com)
[10] Time.com

Michael Soforenko, P.E.
Michael has worked in Building Water Systems and municipal water since 2016. A practicing Chemical Engineer in Florida, he earned his Professional Engineer designation in 2019. He has also attained the Drinking Water Operator, Class D license from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.
Michael Soforenko, P.E.

@ecopreserve

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