Back in 2019, The Watershed Project conducted a water needs assessment in the community of North Richmond to address water related concerns. Since that time, we were able to hear and understand the various concerns from the community, and offer a way for residents to build trust in their tap water through collecting tap water samples, sending them to a lab, analyzing the results and showcasing the results to the community. We collected water samples from 20 residents participating in this project, and are excited to have received their water quality results. For those interested in learning more about the process and background of this project, read it in one of our previous articles called: Addressing Tap Water Concerns in North Richmond.
Understanding the Technical Elements of TWQ Analysis
Our goal was to be hands-on with delivering the tap water results to the residents by walking them through these results in a way that will help them understand the sometimes difficult to follow technical details. The water we drink includes a large number of chemicals that come from our environment which nowadays has both natural and industrial sources. Some of these chemicals, or water constituents, are necessary to our health like magnesium or calcium, and some are extremely dangerous, like lead or arsenic. The amount, or concentration of the water constituents is also important: chemicals that may be dangerous at high concentrations can pose no harm at low concentrations, even if we consume them over our whole lifetime, like chlorite. Based on rigorous academic research, the State of California has set standards for drinking water quality. These standards define the limits, or concentration thresholds to what is healthy and what isn’t healthy, for each chemical.
Drinking water standards are updated occasionally when new information is collected. Two important standards/limitations are looked at: the first is the California Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) – these are standards indicate the highest level of contaminants allowed in drinking water, and the second is the Public Health Goals (PHGs) – these look through a health point of view, and determine the level of concentrations of drinking water contaminants that pose no significant health risk if consumed for a lifetime. This means that if a potentially harming chemical is found in your water, but it is at a concentration level that is below the specified PHG, there is no risk to your health. Because we don’t drink directly from water sources, and water sources today are rarely pristine and uncontaminated, it is sometimes hard to maintain tap water quality below PHG levels. MCL’s, on the other hand, take into account other limitations such as natural contaminants in our water sources (arsenic, for example, is naturally occurring in California) or the implications of our water systems (types of chlorines, for example, are used to treat bacteria or other organic contaminants). Because of all this, MCL’s provide a more practical approach. In addition, it is important to note that there are other factors that influence the water system at the household level that could influence the taste, smell, color, and even chemical composition of the water that comes out in the home. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the supply of drinking water is not at a good quality. Things like old plumbing, rusting of the pipes, lack of water filtration upkeep, etc. all have a hand in the quality of water that ends up coming out of your faucet.
Based on these standards, we looked at the results of the samples and each fell well under the range of the MCLs, meaning it met California standards for clean, drinkable water. One of our guiding questions for the project was to see if folks’ tap water is safe to drink and these results were confirmation that, yes, it is safe to drink! As we continued to talk to residents and deliver the news that their water was of good quality, many folks expressed relief to hear that the water running through their home was good. Some even expressed an intention to switch from drinking bottled water to tap water for their day to day water intake.
We followed up with offering filters to residents as part of the program. Filter selections were based on recommendations coming from a testing lab. We thought these filter recommendations were a natural step to offer, especially to address aesthetic concerns like taste and smell in order to encourage the use of filling up from the tap. While we are not filter experts and will be waiting for our project managers to provide such experts, we still wanted to give residents the opportunity and choice to have a filter system in their home for the time being. Many residents were thrilled with the idea and we have begun talking to residents about how they’d like to proceed.
Next Steps: Ongoing TWQ Education
Our next steps are to have a tap water quality workshop before the end of 2022. In this workshop, we want to share important information to residents and will have experts speak about health concerns, water testing, filter options, and household water system updates. We aim for complete transparency about the process with the intention to have people that participated in the project share their results and any existing concerns they have about the testing process and their tap water quality. Our vision is to hold a yearly workshop, centered around the work already done. We’d use it as a means to keep people informed and up to date on things relating to tap water quality, and provide resources that folks could look into if they needed it. More information on the workshop to come!