VALPARAISO | Testing to make sure the city's water supply is safe and meets all the state and federal standards is a full-time job. Literally.
Water Operations Manager Shihua Chen said it takes half the day just to gather all the samples required and test them or to send them out to be tested. The rest of the day is spent filling out all the forms for reporting the results to the appropriate authorities.
As part of the National Drinking Water Week campaign, the American Water Works Association urges residents to Get to Know Your H2O.
"We all agree that water is an essential element in our daily lives, but many of us can't say for certain where our tap water comes from," AWWA Executive Director David LaFrance said. "In the U.S., our water providers must make water quality reports available to their customers every single year."
Chen said the city, which gets all its water from wells, is required to test 40 times each month for bacteria. The city tests 120 times. A sample is taken from the Flint Lake and the airport treatment plants each day along with two samples from distribution sites around the city. About 100 such sites have been approved for these tests.
"We don't do just the minimum," Chen said. "We want to go beyond the requirements."
The city also does what is called wet chemistry testing to check the water's pH level, to see if it is too acidic or too alkaline; the hardness, the level of calcium carbonate, and the amount of chlorine, fluoride and phosphate in the water. The latter three are added to the water in the treatment process.
Chen said a neutral pH reading would be 7, and the city's water ranges between 7.3 and 7.5, which means it is slightly alkaline. He said a typical cola drink is a 2, or very acidic. The hardness level of the water is about 400 parts per million of calcium carbonate, which he said is more than double a median range for hardness.
While the city's hard water might leave spots on dishes or deposits in the water heater, it is not a health problem. Reducing the hardness would eliminate the deposits that can affect appliances, but soft water also is more corrosive of the plumbing.
Chlorine disinfects the water and oxidizes the iron and manganese that occur naturally so it can be removed to satisfactory levels. Too much iron can cause rust stains on clothes and an unpleasant taste. Fluoride occurs naturally at a level of 0.3 ppm, and that is increased to 1 ppm as a dental health measure.
The phosphate forms a protective layer on the pipes throughout the system, including inside homes, which might have dangerous lead plumbing. Tests are done of a sampling of homes every few years to look for lead and copper contamination.
All these tests are done in the water department's certified microbiology lab. The city also is required to test for more than 100 other potential contaminants, ranging from inorganic chemicals to radioactive ones. These occur in such small amounts, the city has the tests done by an outside lab.
Now you know your H2O.