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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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