As published in Lakeway Voice, June 2020.
Choose Tap Water
Water is essential. Not only for hygiene, irrigation, and cooking, but for our health. From newborns to adults to seniors, our bodies are primarily made up of water; everyday activities cause us to lose that water…especially in this Texas summer heat! Beyond hydration, water is required to keep your body functioning properly – from helping to regulate body temperature to fighting off infections to maintaining focus.
But several factors come into play when assessing the water provided to a community by its public water system that greatly impact the quality and reliability of their tap water, including: raw water source, the process used for treating water, and the infrastructure for storing and conveying treated water. For Lakeway residents, when it comes to deciding between tap water from your sink or bottled water from the store, the choice is clear.
Public water systems, like Lakeway Municipal Utility District (LMUD), are required to follow strict standards and submit regular reporting to local and federal authorities, unlike the manufacturers of bottled water. These standards were set nationwide by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through the Safe Drinking Water Act, a federal law passed in the 1970s that sets quality standards for the systems that provide Americans with drinking water. In Texas, we are also subject to standards set by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) in the Texas Water Code. Most public water systems, including LMUD, treat water above these standards.
Each summer, by federal and state laws, public water systems are required to develop a Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) and distribute it to their customers. This annual water quality report provides residents information about the quality of their tap water. It includes information about the source of their water (ie: rivers, lakes, reservoirs, or aquifers), chemical contaminants, bacteriological contaminants, and more. Background and details of the report can be found on the TCEQ website at www.tceq.texas.gov/drinkingwater/ccr .
Raw Water Source
LMUD pulls the water we treat to drinking water standards out of Lake Travis, part of the Colorado River system, which is governed by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA). Under a firm water supply contract with the LCRA, we have access to this water supply even during severe drought. Seasonal changes in the quality and makeup of source water can greatly impact the aesthetic character (taste, smell, color) of the drinking water, however our continual testing throughout the treatment process ensures it rarely impacts the quality of it. In situations where the quality of our treated water could potentially be compromised, we utilize all means necessary to notify our affected customers as quickly as possible, most often in the form of a Boil Water Notice.
It’s a bit of an artform for our water operators, making decisions based on science as well as experience to produce the taste and odor (or preferably, lack thereof) of the water that comes out of our customers’ taps.
Treatment of this raw water begins at the source with the protection efforts overseen by LCRA. We pump this raw water up to our treatment plant where it undergoes a series treatment processes, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, and disinfection, all the while being tested, analyzed, and monitored by our licensed water operators. There is no room for error, no bad batches allowed, to keep the water safe (relatively contaminant and chemical free) as well as aesthetically pleasing (goal is to be clear, odorless, and mostly flavorless). Alkaline pH should remain at least neutral, 7.0 or as high as 9.0, to limit corrosivity and maintain a healthy level of alkaline minerals such as calcium and magnesium.
While we pride ourselves on providing safe water treatment practices, it’s typically the taste and odor of our drinking water that create buzz from our customers. It’s a bit of an artform for our water operators, making decisions based on science as well as experience to produce the taste and odor (or preferably, lack thereof) of the water that comes out of our customers’ taps. These qualities, while important, are not necessarily quantifiable or qualifiable, so do not appear on water quality reports.
Water Distribution & Storage
After the Treatment Plant, the potable (treated) water is pumped into our distribution system, which is made up of miles of pipe that run underground, throughout the community, segmented by valves that can isolate a contamination if one were to occur. Our field maintenance department has charge of keeping this system in check to ensure the quality of the water is not compromised and all components are running smoothly.
Water towers, including Lakeway’s iconic golf ball water tower, serve as storage, using gravity to provide the pressure needed to bring water into homes and businesses. Our water treatment operators continue testing, analyzing, and monitoring the water daily at various points throughout the distribution system to ensure the water remains safe before it is brought into our customers’ homes and businesses.
Public water systems are required to maintain a presence of disinfectant in all water found throughout the distribution system to keep it free from disease-causing pathogens, such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoans, that can grow in water supply reservoirs, on the walls of water mains and in storage tanks. Chlorine or chloramines are used by most public water systems in the U.S. for this purpose. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) assures that “while these chemicals could be harmful in high doses, when they are added to water, they all mix in and spread out, resulting in low levels that kill germs, but are still safe to drink.” Chlorine in drinking water can cause water to smell like the chemical, however drinking water is considered safe as long as the chlorine/chloramine levels do not exceed 4 milligrams per liter. Customers concerned with the taste can simply fill a container with their tap water and let it sit uncovered for 24 hours in the refrigerator. For a faster solution, pitchers with charcoal carbon filters are effective at removing chlorine as well as particles such as sediment, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), taste, and odor.
LMUD is a participant in the Texas Fluoridation Program, meaning we adjust the fluoride level in our water to the recommended level for the prevention of tooth decay (0.70 mg/L). The American Dental Association reports, “Water fluoridation is safe, effective and healthy. Seventy years of research, thousands of studies and the experience of more than 210 million Americans tell us that water fluoridation is effective in preventing cavities and is safe for children and adults.” Any potential adverse effects are rarely seen in fluoride from a public water system because it never reaches high enough levels.
While we can maintain the quality of water throughout the distribution system, we cannot control the effect a home’s plumbing system can have on water quality flowing from our customers’ taps. Public water systems are required by the EPA under the Lead and Copper Rule to routinely collect samples from a pre-approved set of service locations. Although LMUD’s water system does not contain any lead or copper pipes, lead and copper plumbing materials used in individual homeowner’s plumbing systems can cause leaching into the water supply as the pipes corrode. Information on lead in drinking water, test methods, and steps you can take to minimize exposure is available from the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at www.epa.gov/safewater/lead.
Tap Water Versus Bottled Water
Unlike the annual reports supplied to customers by public water systems, getting information about the quality of bottled water is difficult. Consumer Reports has stated there is no single source that maintains a list of quality reports from the manufacturers of bottled water. Besides that:
- Bottled water is wasteful: Single-use plastic bottles are the third most common item found in ocean debris and represent 15 percent of marine waste (only 14 percent of all plastic gets recycled).
- Bottled water is expensive: On average, bottled water costs $10 per gallon compared to tap water which costs most of our customers $0.0025 per gallon.
- Tap water and bottled water are generally comparable in terms of safety…we’d argue tap water is safer!
- Taste varies depending on the source: Minerals and other compounds determine a water’s taste. Minerals can be added to tap water with a filter.
At LMUD, we are thankful to have our water system managed by well-trained staff and adequately supplied with provisions made for future growth. Our department supervisors on all levels – wastewater, potable water, and field maintenance – average over 20 years with LMUD; as such, they understand our water system and the needs of our community. Our facilities are regularly upgraded with backup measures in place to minimize the impact of man-made or natural disasters. Our distribution system is monitored 24 hours a day by our own operators with accessibility to make changes from their mobile devices. We are fortunate to be able to utilize the most effective water treatment options available while staying under budget from year to year.
So, the next time you need a drink, where will you turn?
Written by Stephanie Threinen, Public Information Liaison, LMUD. Earl Foster is the General Manager of LMUD.