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Safe Drinking Water: Not Just the Responsibility of the Water System

Posted By Deborah McMullan, Sourcewater Protection Specialist , Thursday, January 9, 2020

Providing safe drinking water starts with the federal government and the state regulatory agencies. This is where laws and rules are developed for monitoring and maintaining all public water systems. These laws dictate the safety levels of contaminants found within our drinking water. They also dictate how water is to be treated and tested, as well as when and how the public is to be notified if a safety concern arises.

The second level of protection comes from the water system itself. This includes the office staff, managers and water operators. All operators must receive Texas Commission on Environment Quality (TCEQ)-approved training and pass a state license exam to legally operate a water system. During the training the operators learn many ways to protect and provide their customers with safe water.

There’s a third level of protection that most people never stop to consider. That’s you, the consumer! Yes, you too are responsible for protecting your drinking water. There are many ways that you may be of assistance, but the biggest assistance comes in the form of what we refer to as “Cross Connection Control and Backflow Prevention.”

Occasionally, a situation occurs where there is a temporary loss of water pressure due to the breakage or maintenance on a water supply line or main. This can cause the backflow of pollutants or contaminants from a cross connection to enter the water system and threaten the safety of your drinking water. Often your home is the first to receive that contaminated water, then it moves into the water main going on down the street to your neighbors. Even if the backflow event doesn’t cause a health hazard, it could adversely affect the taste, odor or appearance of the water. The contaminant may also be corrosive to your home’s plumbing.

Your first line of defense is utilizing a backflow device outside your home. There are many different types of backflow prevention devices available, some costing as little as $5. All homes should be equipped with an inexpensive vacuum breaker at each outside water faucet. These can be purchased at any hardware store and they are easy to install. They simply screw onto the hose bib and the water hose is then attached to the vacuum breaker.

The common water hose is the biggest culprit when it comes to cross connections in the home and business. For example, animal watering troughs which are common in rural areas for watering cattle or horses can take quite a while to fill. The automatic system for filling a trough is very popular and makes life easy for the owner; however, they require a garden hose or plumbing line to be present. A few years ago, a horse rancher was having a periodic problem where he would suddenly find lots of dirt in the bottom of his swimming pool, brown ice cubes in his freezer and brown water coming from his faucets. After several months of investigations, the water utility staff found the problem.

Every month the utility staff would perform a routine, state required, flushing of the water lines close to the rancher’s home causing a temporary drop in water pressure. The rancher had a very large horse watering trough just outside the back yard of his home. There was a garden hose lying inside the trough and the end of the hose lay in the muck at the bottom of the trough. Every month when the utility flushed the lines, a backflow event was occurring sucking all that muck back into the home’s plumbing system.

There was a simple fix to the problem. The rancher first installed vacuum breakers at all his outside hose bibs. Next, he installed plastic PVC piping with an air gap at the trough. An air gap is simply the area between the end of a hose or piping and the surface of the water. This prevents the backflow of water into the water system. If you happen to have a similar situation that needs correction, remember that the air gap should be two times the diameter of the hose or pipe.

With warmer weather approaching, there will be a lot more activities involving the garden hose and with these, other potential cross connection problems. Help protect yourself, your family and your neighbors by removing your water hose from Fido’s bath bucket, the kids wading pools and the garden sprayers. These are other common uses that can cause problems during the summer months. Help spread the word about how everyone in the community can take prevention measures to protect the water system and your homes from contamination.

If you are concerned that you have activities within your home or business that may be causing a cross connection and require backflow protection, we recommend contacting your water system operator. Water operators are very knowledgeable and willing to assist. They can perform a cross connection inspection and make recommendations on devices or processes to prevent back flow events from occurring.

Remember that education, back flow protection devices and changing habits are your best friends when preventing cross connections and backflow events.

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How Do We Keep Pharmaceuticals Out of Our Water Supply?

Posted By Deborah McMullan, Sourcewater Protection Specialist , Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The question of “what do I do with household hazardous waste, particularly unused medicines?” is a question that I’m asked often when working with water systems. This has become a hot topic in the last several years, as we’re hearing more about medicines showing up in our drinking water sources. 

At this time, pharmaceuticals that are unwanted by the consumer are not regulated as hazardous wastes. While there are a few pharmaceuticals on the market that meet the definition of hazardous waste under the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the Act exempts household hazardous waste from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) disposal requirements. However, it is still imperative that everyone aid in the proper disposal of medicines to ensure source waters are not contaminated.

First, let’s talk about how medicines can end up in our drinking water sources. In homes that use septic tanks, prescription and over-the-counter drugs flushed down the toilet can leach into the ground and seep into our ground water/aquifers.

In areas where residences are connected to wastewater treatment plants, prescription and over-the-counter drugs poured down the sink or flushed down the toilet can pass through the treatment system and enter rivers and lakes. Due to prohibitive costs and lack of technology, municipal wastewater systems do not remove medicines before the treated water is released into the outfall. This means that those medicines may flow downstream to serve as sources for community drinking water supplies. Just like wastewater treatment plants, water treatments plants are generally not equipped to routinely remove medicines.

The best option for disposal is collecting all unwanted or expired prescription and over-the-counter drugs and dispose through a drug take-back program. EPA is currently recommending incineration as the preferred disposal method for household drug take-back programs, because they believe that incineration will safely address environmental concerns. If your city or county doesn’t offer this on an annual basis, you may still be able to utilize a take-back service at a local pharmacy or in another nearby city. To locate a collection site go to: https://apps2.deadiversion.usdoj.gov/pubdispsearch/spring/main?execution=e1s1, enter your city name and zip code, and you will receive a listing of all available options. 

If you happen to live in an area where there is no convenient location in which to drop off your medications, you can still do your part by following these steps:

1. Take the prescription drugs out of their original containers.
2. Mix drugs with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.
3. Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub, or into a sealable bag.
4. Conceal or remove any personal information, including Rx number on the empty containers by covering it with permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off.
5. The sealed container with the drug mixture and the empty drug containers can now be placed in the trash.

With this said, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a list of drugs they recommend flushing ONLY when an immediate drop-off disposal option is not readily available. The medicines on this flush list may be especially harmful and, in some cases, fatal if used by someone other than the person for whom they were prescribed. Opioids are a good example of such a drug.

Immediately flushing these medicines down the toilet helps to keep children, pets and other individuals safe by making sure these drugs are not accidentally ingested, touched or misused.

Please note that FDA’s flush list indicates which old, unwanted, expired or unused medicines to immediately flush when take-back options are not readily available. Links in the flush list direct you to specific disposal instruction in each medicine’s label. To access this list go to: https://www.fda.gov/drugs/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know/drug-disposal-flush-potentially-dangerous-medicine#FlushList. 


FDA recognizes that the recommendation to flush certain potentially dangerous medicines only when a take-back option is not readily available raises questions about the impact of the drugs on the environment and the contamination of surface and drinking water supplies. However, they believe that the known risk of harm to humans from accidental, and sometimes fatal, exposure to medicines on the flush list far outweighs any potential risk to the environment from flushing these leftover or unused medicines. 
For further information on drug disposal you may visit: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-06/documents/how-to-dispose-medicines.pdf and https://www.fda.gov/drugs/disposal-unused-medicines-what-you-should-know/drug-disposal-flush-potentially-dangerous-medicine#FlushList. 

 

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Protecting Your Water Supply During an Emergency

Posted By Jason Knobloch, Environmental Services Director, Texas Rural Water Association, Tuesday, November 19, 2019

 

Texas is an undeniable target for natural disaster—we have the perfect atmosphere for hurricanes, tornados, floods, fires and even an occasional ice situation. Our fluctuating temperatures and seasons allow for many different emergency events to occur, but we hold strong and bear through it. Part of that process involves us relying heavily on our public water supply. During an event, it is likely not at the forefront of our minds how our utility providers and those who work for them are preparing for the same situation.

 

It is important to understand the great measures your local water utility goes through to prepare for a natural disaster of any type. Some of the practices are:

 

  • Filling water tanks – Utilities will do what they can to make sure the tanks are completely full before an event. There is a real chance that power could be down, and the well, intake or treatment plant may not be operational to refill tanks and distribute water. In some cases, keeping the tanks full will help the utility keep the tank upright. Water weighs 8.34 lbs. per gallon and that weight will steady a tank in high winds or heavy floods.
  • Turning off valves – Your utility may close off the valve at the tank or road that services your area because it is prone to taking on damage. Understand that a broken line will leak continuously until your utility can find it and fix it. In many events, this may be days due to road access, flooding or other damage. Closing the valve can save water and stop possible contaminations to the supply.

  • Electricity – Utilities are required to have backup power for their water source, but the backup power (generator) may also suffer damage and be unable to perform as expected. Your utility will have backup plans in place for external power in these events.
  • Holding down the fort – Though a common expression, holding down the fort is a reality when a natural disaster is imminent. A piece of pipe can become a projectile in high winds, so your utility will physically strap down all their pipe, equipment and material in the supply yard. Your utility must identify all their vulnerabilities and address them in advance.
  • Public Notices/Disinfection – Your utility goes to great lengths to make sure the water they serve is of the utmost quality, as well as in compliance with the standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency and Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. During a disaster, please be aware of posted signs throughout the area such as flyers, painted plywood and/or door-to-door announcements letting everyone know the status of the public water supply, since newspapers and TV broadcasts may not be available during these events. The utility may post a Boil Water Notice as a precaution in response to low pressure or outages during an event. The notice recommends boiling water at a rigorous boil for two minutes before drinking to eliminate possible bacteria in the water. This is not a problem in most cases, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
  • Emergency Response Plan – Utilities are required to have an Emergency Response Plan in place. This is a task the utility must take on to assess potential risks and vulnerabilities and prepare a plan for them. Though no plan ever prepares you completely, know that your utility has done all the preparations they can to continue to provide safe and potable water in an emergency situation.
  • Mutual Aid Networks – Texas has a mutual aid network for water utilities called the Texas Water/Wastewater Agency Response Network (TXWARN) that facilitates connection between utilities when assistance is needed. In addition, your utility is a member of Texas Rural Water Association (TRWA), a trade association that provides staff and generator resources to its members during emergencies. TRWA is also a TXWARN partner. Through these resources, your utility can get assistance with anything from chemicals needed to backup generators, manpower and equipment. Rest assured your utility has the backing and support of hundreds of utilities across the state to help them get up and running to provide you with quality water as soon as possible.

These, of course, are just a few ways your utility may prepare for an emergency event. Your utility may go above and beyond these measures to make sure they are providing you with the best possible service during a natural disaster.


Outside of the utility’s preparations, there are a few things you, the customer, can do to help.

 

  • Store some water – Depending on the event and where you are, it is possible the power will go out and water supply and pressure may be minimal. Store water for your household (drinking, cooking), including for your animals. An average dog needs to drink 8.5 to 17 ounces of water per 10 pounds per day, depending on activity level, size, age and weather. To translate: A 50-pound dog needs between 42 and 84 ounces of water to stay happy and hydrated.
  • Turn off your water – If you have a property that serves a large acreage or livestock, turn off your supply to outlying areas in advance of an event. If something breaks, you may not know you have a leak for some time. These leaks put a burden on the water utility to provide water for consumption to others when it is needed. You can supply your stock once you have confirmed you do not have any issues or leaks but be sure you are not wasting water that could be used for human consumption or safety.
  • Protect your belongings – With tornadoes, hurricanes and floods, water damage is a real threat. Follow your insurance company’s suggestions to wrap, pack and store items that are near and dear to you such as pictures, letters, etc.
  • Get Supplies – Understand that just because the hurricane, tornado, fire, etc., didn’t impact you directly, it doesn’t mean it won’t impact you at all. Past hurricanes have caused fuel shortages throughout Texas. I remember seeing a line of cars from my small town stretching to the nearest interstate miles away, many of them stuck in place because they ran out of fuel. On top of that, they didn’t have the necessary items to sustain them through the crisis. There are many places to find a list of suggested items to prepare in these kinds of events—but make sure to do it in advance

We can never completely prepare for what may come, but it is our responsibility to do what we can to make sure we are safe and secure. Your utility consists of people just like you that do a great deal of preparation for the sake of the public water supply before they consider themselves. Be sure to thank these individuals for the work they do to provide you water service, especially during an emergency situation. Consider what they do; and do your part to prepare as well.

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What are the Responsibilities of your Water Utility’s Board of Directors?

Posted By TRWA Communications , Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Your water or sewer utility is governed by a board of directors.  Do you know who they are and what they do? Here are three things you might not know about who is serving on your water system’s board of directors.

  • They are your neighbors: Water Districts and Water Supply Corporations are typically governed by people whose families drink the water every day.  They are elected by their fellow community members to serve on the water system board of directors.
  • They are volunteers: These board members are volunteers who devote their time and energy to providing a better quality of life for their community by ensuring a clean supply of drinking water and/or sewer services. These individuals realize the importance of these services to the sustainability and public health of their communities.
  • They are ambassadors:  They are the public’s representative to help oversee the water system, and they are also the system’s representative to tell the system’s story to the media and the public.

Now you know a little more about who is governing your water system, but do you know what they actually do? The specifics may change based on the size of the system, but generally, here are eight things your water or sewer system’s board of directors are responsible for:

  1. POLICY: The governing body’s major role is to develop policy, while leaving operations to the water system’s staff. However, in very small systems with part-time or volunteer staff, the board may help operate the system. Policies set by the board are the “how to” of running a utility and cover all aspects of the organization, varying in scope from rates and customer service polices to purchasing/ procurement policies to personnel policies.

  2. UNDERSTANDING REGULATIONS: There are many federal and state regulations and laws that affect your water and/or sewer system and how it does business. It is a responsibility of the water system’s board of directors to keep abreast of them and ensure the system and its business operations are in compliance.

  3. PLANNING: One of the board’s jobs is to look forward and try to best position the system for the future. Managing a water or sewer utility is expensive and extensive, so it is up to the board to determine goals and objectives and major ways to achieve them. This includes securing future water supplies, asset management, financial security, customer relations and recruiting for future board members, just to name a few.  Just like managing our personal finances and assets, water and sewer systems must be constantly planning for short-term and long-term needs.

  4. BUDGETS: The board approves the system’s annual budget and periodically reviews its progress to ensure the system is on track to meet its goals for the year. The budgeting process helps the board focus on the system’s mission, assess if planned expenditures are achieving the desired results, determine operational and capital spending, and highlight key measures of performance.

  5. MANAGEMENT: A water or sewer utility’s board of directors has just one employee—the utility manager. The board recruits, selects, compensates, appraises and (if necessary) terminates the utility manager. The utility manager then manages the rest of the staff and implements the board’s policies.

  6. MONITOR SYSTEM PERFORMANCE: The board of directors is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the water or wastewater utility, but they do monitor the overall performance of the system. This information is gathered through monthly reports, customer feedback, and audits. The board uses this information to gauge the success of their short-range and long-range planning.

  7. MEETINGS: There are two major reasons for a board meeting—discussing and deciding on water system business. It is the board’s responsibility to set and post the agenda, and then conduct business openly, lawfully and ethically.

  8. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS: Man-made and natural disasters, along with everyday breakdowns of facilities and equipment, can drastically affect your water or sewer system’s ability to meet the customers’ needs. The board of directors is responsible for ensuring there are emergency plans in place to guide the system’s board and staff on what to do in a crisis.
Essentially, water and sewer utility boards are responsible for ensuring that their system is well staffed, well maintained, meets all state and federal requirements and is prepared to serve the current and future needs of the community. Your local water or wastewater utility stands at the intersection of three major public policy areas: public health, environmental protection and local economic growth; and the board of directors must ensure that the utility successfully meets the demands of all three. 

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Simple Ways to Protect Your Public Water Supply

Posted By Quentin Turner, FMT Assistance Specialist, TRWA , Wednesday, August 14, 2019

As utility customers, most of us don’t realize how often we cause our water system difficulties when we use one of the simplest of devices at our disposal—the dreaded “garden hose.”

 

The garden hose has probably been responsible for more problems related to water systems than any other single piece of equipment in the world. The garden hose can create so much trouble because it is so user friendly and easy to connect, but it’s also so easy to forget! Regardless of whether it is connected, it looks so innocent just sitting there. However, there are multiple misuses of the garden hose.

 

Have you ever left the garden hose in the dog’s watering bowl, a horse trough, AG spray tank, hooked to a one-quart garden sprayer or soap dispenser for washing your car/truck? In the event of a backflow event (the water system has a leak and enough water reverses flow toward the leak to create an area of low pressure), a vacuum can occur and will suck the water, along with whatever is in it, back through the garden hose, into your plumbing, into the water system, then to your neighbor, and so on and so on. Imagine the possibilities.

 

Now think about the individual that tries to unstop a clogged drain, or heaven forbid, the sewer line with a garden hose. What happens when the system has that same leak a mile down the road? It doesn’t matter if you live on the other side of the road or next door, because it’s usually the same water main feeding everyone. Now my hope and prayer is that the individual trying to clean the sewer line with the garden hose doesn’t decide to take a drink from that hose anytime in the future.

One of the lessons I learned long ago was reinforced in the lines of a Spiderman movie I watched: “With great power comes great responsibility.” We as customers of a water system have some power—we get to vote on the individuals that represent our interests, in most cases. So therefore, we also have a responsibility to help ensure the integrity of our water system.

 

There are several ways that we as customers can help. Don’t leave the hose in the bucket, trough, tank or pool. Another way is to see if your plumbing contains a simple $5-$10 device known as a “hose bibb vacuum breaker.” If you don’t have those, you can purchase them at most hardware stores. It’s a pretty cheap way to help protect an entire water system. You can also contact your water system and ask them for information or an inspection. All water systems are required to provide a Cross Connection Control Program. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) monitors this when they perform a system inspection and most all water systems have an on-staff or contracted certified Customer Service Inspector to do individual home/business inspections. They may also use a Licensed Plumber. Most water systems would be glad to do an inspection even if they have done one for you in the past. Things change and need to be looked at again and updated.

 

The garden hose is not the only problem, but it is one of the most common. As a homeowner you may install and maintain your own irrigation system. It’s still important to have a suitable backflow prevention assembly in place and to be sure that it works properly. TCEQ requires you to have a licensed backflow tester check the assembly when it is installed. Always check with your water provider for specific regulations.  Your water system is also trained to deal with contamination issues at hospitals, mortuaries, vet clinics, chemical plants—the list goes on with anything that could cause health problems by passing through the water system. Water system operators are trained to monitor the system, identify potential hazards, and help determine the appropriate means to offset the dangers.

 

I’ll leave you with one last example. Have you ever heard of “Blue Ice Cubes”? Several things need to happen at the same time to create this issue, but they did on at least one occasion that I’m aware of.  Many years ago, maybe still in some areas, folks were fond of the “Tidy Bowl Man” blue liquid placed in the toilet tank to help clean and disinfect the toilet bowl. There was an unapproved fill valve (ball cock) in place and when the toilet was flushed, a new stream of blue filled the tank. At the same time there was a water leak down the road causing backflow and the refrigerator ice maker valve opened to fill the ice tray. The next day, Blue Ice Cubes! Y’all get the picture. This could have been prevented if the customer had requested the water system’s CSI Inspector or a Plumber do a home inspection because they would have identified the fill valve that needed to be replaced in the toilet to prevent the cross-connection.


 

All systems should be vigilant in preventing cross-contamination of their water supplies.  TCEQ has put forth this guidance on backflow prevention issues, including examples of common cross-connections, methods for preventing cross-connections, and testing of backflow-prevention assemblies.  This guidance is useful for water systems, but we recommend sharing it with your customers because it breaks down cross-connection and backflow issues in an easy-to-understand manner! 

 

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How Does Bottled Water Measure Up? Five Reasons to Choose tap

Posted By TRWA Communications , Monday, July 29, 2019
Bottled or tap? It seems like a simple question, but do you know the answer? More than $100 billion is spent each year on bottled water around the world, so at that steep price you might assume the bottled version is worth the cost. In most cases you would be wrong. In the U.S., consumers are better served by simply turning on the tap and drinking the water provided by their local water system. Read on for the top five reasons to choose tap over bottled water. 

1. It saves you money: Bottled water costs at least 1,000 times more per gallon than tap water, and 25 percent of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle, sometimes treated further and sometimes not. 

2. It’s better for the environment: Millions of tons of plastic bottles are clogging our landfills and it takes 1.63 liters of water to make every liter of bottled water.

3. It’s safer than bottled water: Tap water is typically safer than bottled water because it is regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), whereas bottled water is regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Tap water must be disinfected, filtered to remove pathogens and tested for cryptosporidium and giardia viruses. Bottled water does not have to be. Although both are tested for bacteria and most synthetic organic chemicals, tap water’s purity and safety are assessed more frequently. 

4. It assures quality: All tap water suppliers must provide annual quality reports to their customers. Regulation of bottled water in most states does not require assurances to customers of either purity or safety. 

5. It’s healthier: Chemicals in plastic bottles can leach over time into the water, especially when the water has been stored in the bottle over a period of time. 


These are just some of the many reasons to choose the tap over cracking the cap of a bottled water. Learn more about this topic at the following links:
Natural Resource Defense Council: www.nrdc.org/stories/truth-about-tap
National Geographic: https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2010/03/100310/why-tap-water-is-better/ 
Money Crashers: https://www.moneycrashers.com/bottled-water-vs-tap-water-facts/ 
Environmental Working Group: www.ewg.org/research/your-bottled-water-worth-it/bottle-vs-tap-double-standard 
 

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Best Practices for Consumers: Staying Secure Online

Posted By TRWA Commmunications, Monday, July 8, 2019

As more people and businesses use online services, they become more vulnerable to cyber criminals and hackers. Water utilities abide by certain practices to best protect the utility and its customers’ information, but there are additional measures consumers can take to minimize your risk.


Credit Card Processing

Although a water system’s billing processes are Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) compliant, incorporating a few practices into your daily routine can help keep your cards and account numbers safe. For example, keep a record of your account numbers, their expiration dates and the phone number to report fraud for each company in a secure place.

Do your best to only use established businesses that you can contact easily if there’s an issue. Look for sites with “https:” in their web addresses — as the “s” stands for secured. Even if you’re on a secured site, don’t share your information unless you have to and you know how it will be used.

Furthermore, don’t share your account information to anyone via phone or email unless you’ve made the call to a company you know to be reputable. Avoid sharing this information via email unless you have encrypted it in a reliable way.


Identifying Spam and Scams: Gone Phishing

Phishing is a type of online scam where you receive an email that appears to be from a legitimate company or individual, but instead is a scam intended to solicit sensitive information from you in one way or another. This is usually done by providing a link to what appears to be a reputable website but is really a façade and the information you provide instead ends up in the wrong hands. More sophisticated scams include using the names of recognizable colleagues who are likely not to be in the office, requests to update account information or fraudulent links to share documents or information. To protect yourself from phishing scams, here are a few things you can do:

  • Review the email address – Is it actually coming from a credible address, or is the display just piggybacking on a trustworthy organization or individual? If the email is not addressed to you specifically, pay closer attention to the text and context of the email. Sometimes the reply path email address is different than the sending email address, which is another great indicator that the email is fraudulent.
  • Confirm credibility – Before making any purchases or agreements, confirm details through a second communication channel (phone, text or in-person confirmation). Often, repeated grammatical errors and resistance to further or different communication indicate foul play. If sentences or word placement do not make sense, or the wrong words are capitalized throughout the body of the email, stop skimming and pay closer attention.

Best Practices for Cyber Users

Here are a few general tips to help ensure your sensitive information stays out of the wrong hands:

  • Identify your most sensitive accounts, such as your bank account, and be intentional about elevating their security.
  • Use “$tr0ng3R” passwords and update them regularly. There are several smartphone apps that you can use to securely store your passwords.
  • Equip yourself for success by layering your protection: A password is the first line of defense against cybercriminals. When possible, use multifactor authentication (security systems that require more than one method of authentication from independent categories of credentials to verify the user's identity for a login or other transaction) for an added layer of protection.
  • Keep your operating system, browser and other critical software up to date with the latest security patches to minimize vulnerabilities.
  • Be cautious of what you share and engage with on public Wi-Fi; limit the amount of personal information you share online or elsewhere.
  • Monitor your accounts regularly, respond to fraud alerts and report unauthorized transactions promptly.
  • Avoid clicking website pop up ads or bad links. Before clicking on anything stop, think and check if it is expected, valid and trusted. If you accidentally engage with a fraudulent website, use the task manager to kill the process. If you are unable to do this, hard restart your device.

 

All consumers should stay alert and reduce their likelihood of an attack by proceeding with caution – there’s no magic solution to avoiding breaches of cybersecurity, but the more safeguards you take, the better.

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10 Things That Impact Your Water Rate

Posted By TRWA Communications , Monday, June 24, 2019

When it comes to our water utility service, most people are simply concerned with three things: is it on, is it safe and how much is it costing me? Your water utility takes care of the first two items behind the scenes, but the third item is what you see in the mail every month. You may wonder—why does my water cost what it does?

 

There are many factors that play into the service, quality and quantity of drinking water you receive from your local utility, and they all impact the rate you pay for it. 

 

Here are 10 things you may not realize impact your water rate:

 

1) Regulations:  The water and wastewater industry is heavily regulated for the sake of safety.  Your water utiitymust comply with hundreds of regulations that require a lot of time, equipment and expertise, all of which cost money.

2) Capital Improvements:  The concept of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” doesn’t apply here.  Proper planning to meet growth demands, complying with capacity requirements and replacing aging infrastructure is a best management practice and saves money in the long run. 

3) Electricity:  It takes power to run the pumps and operate the treatment processes to provide the quality and pressure required.   

4) Water Supply:  It is costly to drill wells, obtain regulatory approvals and permits or purchase water from a wholesale provider.

5) Facilities:  A basic groundwater system with one well needs a pumping well, pressure and/or storage tank(s), chemicals and injection equipment, and a building and site to place everything.  These can run over a million dollars.  For utilities that have multiple well sites and/or pump and treat surface water have invested many millions to provide safe water to its customers.


6) Treatment: Treatment of water varies depending on the geographical location in the state, as well as the type and location of water being treated.  Regardless, every water utility must treat to the acceptable levels provided in the Environmental Protection Agency’s Safe Drinking Water Act and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s regulations. 

7) Personnel:  Utilities employ general managers, operators and administrative staff. Water and Wastewater operators are specialized professionals trained to safeguard the public they serve.  To attract and retain excellent staff, utilities must pay competitive wages.

8) Technology: Technological advancements have been made to provide accurate, real-time data for water utilities in areas such as water conservation, water quality monitoring and smart meter technology for better service to customers.  It has also allowed the opportunity for many systems to accept credit cards, do business through websites and have online bill pay.

9)  Future Water Supply:  Texas averages around 350,000 new residents each year.  Identifying options and making the necessary steps toward obtaining and securing water for continual service to current and new customers plays a big part in how rates are set.   

10)  Communication: Your utility is a phone call away.  Whether in the office or after hours, communication has allowed for faster response times to resolve outages and issues in the system.   

Though necessary for everyday life, the price you pay for water is likely a small percentage of what you pay for many of the other modern conveniences we have available to us. So, the next time you look at your water bill, think of all the things that go into bringing safe, flowing drinking water into your home or business each and every day. The price you pay for your water service is an investment in a strong, safe and sustainable water system that is necessary for the future sustainability of your community.

 

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What is the Farm Bureau's Beef with Rural Water Utilities?

Posted By Trent Hightower, TRWA Assistant General Counsel and Morgan Johnson, Associate at McGinnis Lochridge , Tuesday, March 19, 2019
Updated: Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Texas Farm Bureau recently published an article in its monthly magazine entitled “The Public Wants Landowners’ Water,” in which it characterizes legislation promoted by the Texas Rural Water Association as “an unconstitutional water grab.”  This is simply not true.  The legislation, House Bill 2249 by Rep. Eddie Lucio, III, strikes a balance between the rights of landowners within a water utility’s service area and the obligation of utilities to provide adequate water supply to meet the demand of their landowner customers.


Groundwater conservation districts, or “GCDs,” are responsible for managing production from aquifers within their geographic boundaries by requiring permits for the production.  The law currently allows, but does not require, GCDs to take into account a utility’s service area when deciding how much water the utility is authorized to produce.  This makes sense considering the unique functions and legal obligations of water utilities.  A water utility is not your typical applicant for groundwater – utilities do not ordinarily own large amounts of acreage, and they are seeking water to serve all of their customers, including residences, businesses, and agricultural users.  Utilities produce water not for themselves, but on behalf of hundreds or perhaps thousands of their customers.  While the utility’s customers are free to drill a well on their own property, doing so is often cost-prohibitive.  Therefore, customers look to the water utility to provide the water since the utility is able to take advantage of economies of scale to produce the necessary water for its customers at a lower cost. 

 

Recognizing the unique nature of water utilities, many GCDs across Texas take a utility’s service area into account when issuing the utility’s groundwater permits.  For those GCDs, nothing would change if House Bill 2249 becomes law.  This bill would require all other GCDs that regulate by acreage and/or tract size and do not consider service area to consider the utility’s service area.  The bill does this while still ensuring that this requirement does not interfere in any way with a landowner’s right to obtain a permit or drill a well.  Without recognizing a utility’s service area, the acreage-based approach to permitting has devastating effects on rural communities.  With only a small amount of land owned by the utility for its well site, utilities in this type of permitting scheme are required to obtain additional land or water rights at a high cost that is then passed on to consumers.  Worse, when a GCD ties production to an applicant’s contiguous acreage, utilities can find themselves unable to fully utilize their wells if adjacent landowners are unwilling to sell their land or lease their water rights. 


To balance the interests of utilities, their customers, and landowners within their service area, House Bill 2249 includes several safeguards to ensure that water utilities are not over-permitted and that landowner rights are protected.  First, GCDs cannot consider any of the utility’s service area that does not overlie the aquifer.  Additionally, the utility would not receive credit for any acreage within its service area that is already subject to another permit, and the utility’s permit will be reduced annually to subtract acreage assigned to a landowner permit issued after the utility’s permit.  Under the bill, utilities are prohibited from interfering with or protesting landowners’ requests to obtain their own permits.

 

House Bill 2249 is a reasonable compromise to the complex issue of allocating a managed resource among competing interests while keeping water rates reasonable for rural communities and ensuring that landowners’ property rights are not restricted.  House Bill 2249 does not create an unconstitutional taking as the Farm Bureau asserts.  It does not take or constrain the landowner’s right to drill a well, use the water or encumber the water.  It only allows the utility to use the water to serve these same landowners.  Landowner rights are recognized and are superior to the utilities’ authorization to use the water.  Requiring these utilities to acquire groundwater rights from its landowner customers will unnecessarily result in huge rate increases.

 

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Your Smart Watering Guide

Posted By TRWA Communications , Monday, January 28, 2019

With today’s common watering practices, up to 50 percent of the water applied to lawns and gardens is not absorbed by the plants. It is lost through evaporation, runoff, or being pushed beyond the root zone because it is applied too quickly or in excess of the plants’ needs. The goal of efficient irrigation is to reduce these losses by applying only as much water as is needed to keep your plants healthy, whether you have a water-smart or a conventional landscape.

 

To promote the strong root growth that supports a plant during drought, water deeply and water only when the plant needs it. For clay soils, it is recommended to water less deeply, and in multiple cycles. Irrigating with consideration to soil type, the condition of your plants, the season, and weather conditions— rather than on a fixed schedule—significantly improves your watering efficiency and results in healthier plants. Grouping plants according to similar water needs also makes watering easier and more efficient.

 

Lawns, gardens, and landscapes can be irrigated manually or with an automatic irrigation system. Manual watering with a handheld hose tends to be the most water efficient method. According to the American Water Works Association (AWWA) Research Foundation’s Residential End Uses of Water study, households that manually water with a hose typically use 33 percent less water outdoors than the average household. The study also showed that households with in-ground sprinkler systems used 35 percent more water; those with automatic timers used 47 percent more water; and those with drip irrigation systems used 16 percent more water than households without these types of systems. These results show that in-ground sprinkler and drip irrigation systems must be operated properly to be water-efficient.

 

Watering Mistakes

Much of the water applied to lawns and gardens never gets absorbed by the plants. Common ways that water is wasted include:

  • Runoff: Applying water too rapidly causes runoff, because grass and plants can only absorb so much water at a time. When runoff occurs, soil, fertilizers, and pesticides can be carried to nearby streams.
  • Evaporation: Watering in the middle of the day or using a sprinkler that sprays a fine mist causes much of the water you apply to be lost through evaporation. Plants don’t have enough time to absorb the water before it is evaporated by the sun.
  • Underwatering: Watering too little is wasteful because it does little to alleviate any drought stress that the plants may have.
  • Overwatering: Applying too much or too often causes the greatest waste of water. In addition to overwatering the plant, excessive irrigation can leach nutrients deep into the soil away from plant roots, which increases the chances of runoff pollution.

Good Watering Techniques

The key to watering lawns is to apply water infrequently, yet thoroughly. This creates a deep, well-rooted lawn that efficiently uses the water that is stored in the soil. To know when to water your lawn, simply observe the grass. Wilting and discoloration are signs of water stress. At the first sign of wilting, you have 24 to 48 hours before damage occurs.

 

To water properly, apply 1 inch of water to the lawn as rapidly as possible without runoff. An easy way to measure your application of water is to place a 6-ounce tuna can on your lawn. When the can is full, you have applied enough water. If you start to notice runoff before the can is full, turn off the water. Then, wait for approximately one hour to allow the grass to absorb the water, turn the water on again, and wait for the tuna can to fill.

 

Water early in the morning, before 10 a.m. Avoid watering from mid-morning to late afternoon, when you can lose one-third of your water to evaporation. Also avoid watering in the evening, because lawns and plants that are left wet overnight are more prone to disease.

 

Different areas of your yard may have different watering requirements. Some plants and trees may require less water than grass does. You can reduce the sprinkler run time for these areas. A licensed irrigator can advise you on irrigation application rates for your geographic area, topography, soil conditions, and other factors.

 

For “hose-end” sprinklers, make sure the sprinkler heads are adjusted to avoid watering sidewalks and driveways or other hard surfaces. A hose-end sprinkler head should spray large droplets of water instead of a fog of fine mist, which may be affected by wind drift. Set a timer, so that you remember to turn off the hose-end sprinkler.

All this in mind, please remember to always comply with your water system’s water use restrictions.

 

Maintenance

When it comes to a home's irrigation system, a little maintenance goes a long way. Permanent sprinkler systems require regular maintenance and adjustments. This can be done by you, a licensed irrigator, or licensed master plumber.

  • Check your settings at least quarterly to make sure that water is being applied properly and make adjustments as needed. It is important to ensure you are providing adequate water but are not overwatering. Depending on where you live, you may need to winterize your system in the late fall to prevent freezing of system components.
  • Check your sprinkler heads regularly. Remove any dirt or debris that may be clogging the nozzle and make sure that water is flowing at the proper pressure.
  • Examine points where the sprinkler heads connect to pipes or hoses. If water pools in your landscape or you have large wet areas, you could have a leak in your system. A leak about as small as the tip of a ballpoint pen (or 1/32nd of an inch) can waste about 6,300 gallons of water per month, so if you find a leak, repair it promptly! 


Smart Watering Technology

With automatic systems, overwatering is most common during the fall when summer irrigation schedules have not been adjusted to the cooler temperatures. Irrigation system schedules should always be adjusted down in the fall to prevent overwatering in the colder months.


Using water-efficient technologies can make a big difference in keeping your residential or light commercial irrigation system running efficiently without a lot of effort on your part. 

  •  WaterSense Labeled Irrigation Controllers – To make automatic irrigation systems more efficient, consider upgrading your standard clock timer to a WaterSense labeled irrigation controller. These irrigation controllers are a type of "smart" irrigation control technology that uses local weather data to determine when and how much to water. With proper installation, programming, and adjustments, these smart controllers can help consumers save water, time, and money when compared to use of a conventional controller.
  • WaterSense Labeled Spray Sprinkler Bodies – WaterSense labeled spray sprinkler bodies, which feature integral pressure regulation, can help decrease the outdoor water waste associated with irrigation systems that receive water under higher pressure.
  • Microirrigation – Microirrigation can reduce the likelihood of overwatering a landscape by delivering water directly to where it is needed most, the root zone of plants, preventing runoff and reducing evaporation.
  • Soil Moisture Sensors – Soil moisture-based control technologies water plants based on their needs by measuring the amount of moisture in the soil and tailoring the irrigation schedule accordingly. This will prevent waste by ensuring that the sprinkler does not turn on during and immediately after rainfall or when soil moisture levels are above pre-programmed levels.
  • Rainfall Shutoff Devices – Rainfall shutoff devices turn off your system in rainy weather and help compensate for natural rainfall. This inexpensive device can be retrofitted to almost any system.
  • Rain Sensors – Rain sensors can help decrease water wasted in the landscape by turning off the irrigation system when it is raining.

Sources:

EPA WaterSense, Landscaping Tips: www.epa.gov/watersense/landscaping-tips.

EPA WaterSense, Watering Tips: www.epa.gov/watersense/watering-tips.

Landscape Irrigation, A “Take Care of Texas” Guide. Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, Take Care of Texas: www.takecareoftexas.org

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