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What Does a Superior Rating Mean for Your Water System?

Posted By Kelsey Copeland, Friday, December 1, 2017

A public water system (PWS) is a system that provides water via piping or other constructed conveyances for human consumption to at least 15 service connections or serves at least 25 people for at least 60 days each year. As of June 28th, 2017 the State of Texas regulates 6,952 PWSs, providing drinking water to 27,456,677 customers.

 

Unlike many other states, Texas uses outside contractors (rather than the system itself) to assess the state of these systems. This objectivity helps guarantee correct reporting; in fact, failure to report violations is common in some states because it is difficult to report on things that haven’t yet been tested.

 

The Texas Health and Safety Code under Chapter 341.0353 provides the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) with the authority to evaluate public drinking water supplies at least once each year and as often during the year as conditions demand. The information gathered during the evaluation is then used to assign a rating to the water system of “Approved” or “Superior.” But what does this “superior status” mean to the consumer?

 

Adequate Oversight — To be recognized as a superior system, a minimum of two licensed operators (additional operators for larger systems) are required. This ensures the system is adequately staffed, which ultimately leads to increased oversight and a smaller margin for error.

 

Safe and Reliable Water — The most important factor for a consumer is safe, reliable water. TCEQ administers the Public Drinking Water program under primacy authority from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In this context, a superior system has met standards that prove the system can consistently provide quality drinking water.

 

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the EPA sets national limits on contaminant levels in drinking water to ensure the water is safe for human consumption. When awarded this status, a system has gone 24 months without microbiological violations.

 

To attain the superior status, TCEQ requires compliance with EPA drinking water standards for two types of contaminants. In this industry, the phrase “potable and palatable” is often used to describe these standards. While potable refers to the safety aspects, palatable references things like taste and appearance.

 

  • Primary standards are set to protect consumer health by setting maximum levels on contaminants such as arsenic, fluoride, nitrate, lead, copper or chemicals used for water disinfection. A superior status is awarded only when microbiological sampling ensures water is potable and free of pathogens.
  • Secondary standards are set at levels that, in most cases, aesthetically alter the water: this could include taste, odor or discoloration.

Effective Planning and Preparedness — As communities evolve, it is important for systems to maintain sustainability. To this effect, certain requirements are set forth to ensure a superior system can adequately provide for consumers, even in the event of an unforeseen situation.

 

For example, a superior system is required to have at least two wells, two raw water pumps or a combination of these to provide average daily consumption even with the largest well or pump out of service. Consumers depend on reliable sources, and this requirement helps ensure safe water despite inflation or unexpected circumstances regarding the wells, pumps or water.

 

To further implement preparedness, TCEQ also includes a capacity requirement for the system based on its service area. Capacity is crucial because it enables the system to a) reach consumers and b) reach them efficiently. This distinction is made because systems with low capacities often have low water pressure, and low pressure can increase the likelihood of outside infiltration.

 

Good Housekeeping — Lastly, TCEQ includes standards that help enforce optimal operations. It may be comforting to know that a superior system must comply with operating practices that include but are not limited to: documenting, reporting, flushing, etc. This gives added assurance that procedures are being executed.

 

The water system is also required to be well-maintained and present a pleasing appearance to the public. While the general appearance of the facility does not affect the water quality, these requirements hold the system to a higher standard. The underlying principle includes other aspects associated with superiority in clean water; tidiness and transparency is not a quality exclusive to the product.

 

The Texas Rural Water Association works hard every day to protect rural Texas’ drinking water. We have resources and expert staff that help rural and small systems with a wide-range of issues, including compliance and legal challenges. We are passionately engaged in representing the interests of rural water at both the state and federal legislative levels. We are here to help ensure rural Texans have access to efficient service and clean, quality drinking water. We represent over 750 small and rural utilities that serve communities that enjoy #qualityontap and #drinklocalwater.

Tags:  contamination  drink local water  EPA  groundwater  rural water  superior status  Texas water  TRWA  water quality 

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Groundwater Bill Seeks to Protect Water Supplies for Rural Communities

Posted By Administration, Friday, February 17, 2017

The Texas Farm Bureau published an article in its newsletter last week opposing HB 645 and HB 1318, bills filed by Representative Eddie Lucio III aimed at ensuring that rural economies thrive by continuing to be allocated a fair share of their local groundwater supply. The Farm Bureau’s arguments for opposing these bills address issues that are not included in these bills. The bills do not transfer any private property rights or water rights. These bills strengthen current law, while still providing districts with the discretion they need to balance local needs with market demands.  

 

There is a growing trend of groundwater districts changing the rules of the game for rural utilities, threatening their supply of water by restricting the amount of water they can pump based on the amount of surface acreage they own. These bills are a response to that trend. The practice of basing the amount of water a utility can pump on the amount of acreage owned at the well site, which the Farm Bureau is advocating, is not required by law, and most groundwater districts do not currently employ this practice. Historically, groundwater districts have taken into account the needs and rights of rural communities to their local supply of groundwater, and these bills seek to preserve these rights.

 

The Farm Bureau asserts that the property rights of utility customers are being threatened by these bills, but their interest is to maximize profits for large landowners who are working with water marketers to pump water out of the rural areas to sell to the highest bidders — the big cities. This practice will force local utilities to compete for the purchase of water to serve their communities, driving up the cost for their customers. House Bills 645 and 1318 will preserve access to a sufficient supply of affordable water before it is sold to the highest bidder and piped out of their area. Ninety-five percent of rural utilities serve 4,000 connections or less, and these communities already pay higher water rates than the big cities, because they do not benefit from the same economies of scale.

 

Rural utility customers benefit from having access to an affordable supply of water, which adds value to their property and makes the rural economy possible. Rural water utilities are not large landowners, but are required by law to serve communities of landowners who are relying on the local utility to pump, treat, test and deliver their groundwater for their household needs. Representative Lucio’s bills allow groundwater districts to balance the rights and needs of local communities with the rights of landowners to sell their groundwater.

 

Some groundwater districts are not only requiring rural systems to purchase land in order to pump sufficient supplies to serve their communities, but are requiring that the land be adjacent to the well site where they are pumping. In these districts, utilities are held hostage to whatever price the adjacent landowner seeks to charge, driving up costs to customers even further.

 

In northeast Texas, rural utility customers are being approached by for-profit business enterprises represented by big Austin law firms seeking to purchase water from every customer. With a for-profit business purchasing all the groundwater in a community, where will the local utility obtain the supply to serve that community? Will they be competing with Dallas to purchase that supply, perhaps paying double or triple the amount of the original purchase price? How will customers in that area be able to afford water for their household needs that they have “sold”? What will happen to the economies in those areas when they no longer own or have the right to pump their groundwater?

 

Local communities shouldn’t have to compete to purchase their own water resources with the big cities who are looking to these areas for their future supply. HB 645 and HB 1318 do not transfer any private property rights or water rights, but seek to help ensure that rural communities receive credit for the ownership of their groundwater resource that they are relying on their local utility to provide. 

Tags:  groundwater  HB 1318  House Bill 1318  rural water  Texas legislature  Texas water 

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