3-Pronged Approach to Protecting Drinking Water

Feb 20, 2014

Last month, water consumers in the Charleston, West Virginia area were unable to use their tap water due to a chemical spill into the Elk River. The river is the sole source of drinking water for over 300,000 residents in nine counties in West Virginia.

The nature of the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority’s (RWA) business, providing drinking water to some 430,000 residents in 15 communities in south central Connecticut, demands that we have strong risk mitigation plans and procedures in place to limit our exposure to such an incident.   However, the question remains, “Could something similar happen to the RWA’s sources of water?”

While there is always that possibility, the RWA is well positioned to limit its exposure to such an incident and has robust response and recovery procedures in place.
First, the RWA uses multiple sources for the area’s drinking water, rather than relying on one source as is the case in the Charleston area. The water we supply to our consumers comes from 10 lakes and three groundwater aquifers. Because the distribution system of  pipes that deliver water to homes and businesses in the area is interconnected, we can shut down one treatment plant and still ensure that water is available to meet the area’s needs. The water company for the nine counties affected by the spill in West Virginia did not have that option.

Second, the RWA’s multi-barrier approach to protect the sources of your drinking water focuses on pollution prevention and watershed management. We own and protect over 27,000 acres of watershed and aquifer lands. The RWA monitors activities on the land around reservoirs, watching for potential contamination. We look at existing land uses near the reservoirs and scrutinize proposed developments on public water supply watersheds and aquifer lands. Inspections, combined with security measures and a team of environmental analysts, water quality and laboratory technicians, lake crews and foresters, work together to safeguard the health of our reservoirs and groundwater aquifers.

Water is tested all along the way from the source to your tap. Every year, the RWA’s laboratory does more than 100,000 tests on over 15,000 water samples taken from many different places throughout the water distribution system, within our water treatment plants and in in the reservoirs and aquifers where water is stored prior to treatment. Our nationally-certified laboratory tests for many different compounds and contaminants using state-of-the-art equipment. The results of these tests are compared to more than 175 state and federal standards and are reported to the Connecticut Department of Public Health. We produce a water quality report for our consumers each year, providing the details of those compounds for which we’ve tested and have found in the water.

Third, strong environmental regulations in Connecticut protect all water resources including public water supplies. Companies must follow regulations on chemical use, storage and disposal. This reduces the risk of spills entering the environment. Connecticut is also one of two states in the nation that prohibits the discharge of wastewater into public water supply sources, such as streams and rivers. 

In the event of an emergency with the potential to affect the water we drink, the RWA uses an all-hazard incident management plan which allows us to quickly organize our emergency response and recovery efforts to manmade or natural threats. The plan provides a framework to structure a response required to protect life, property, continuity of operations and water quality. The RWA also uses a wide variety of hazard-specific response plans which provide detailed procedures for various types of incidents including the failure of a treatment plant or pump station, water quality emergency, drought or flood response and severe weather.

The RWA monitors the sources of your drinking water closely to ensure you receive the highest quality water possible. We are ready to respond in the unlikely event that a catastrophe such as a chemical spill happens in the greater New Haven region. 

The South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority (RWA) is a non-profit, public corporation and political subdivision of the state.  Our mission is to provide our customers with high quality water at a reasonable cost while promoting the preservation of watershed land and aquifers.  We provide approximately 48 million gallons of water per day to some 430,000 consumers in 15 communities in our region.  The source of this water is a system of watershed and aquifer areas that cover about 120 square miles within 24 municipalities.  Much of our 27,000 acres of land is managed for watershed protection, timber resource conservation, wildlife habitat, open space, education, and research.