Water Quality Control: The High Cost of Keeping Our Water Clean

We don’t think twice about making a cup of coffee, watering our garden, or swimming in a nearby lake; but a lot of time, energy and money goes into making sure that the water we use or encounter during these activities meets a regulated standard of safety.

 

Testing the Waters

All first world countries—and most third world countries—check the quality of drinking water, industrial water and environmental water. In its “Drinking Water and Guidelines” policy statement [2], the World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges that “[d]iseases related to contamination of drinking water constitute a major burden on human health. Interventions to improve the quality of drinking water provide significant benefits to health.” The WHO urges each country and region to develop and implement water safety and testing approaches that are appropriate to its current resources, and to work incrementally towards long-term water quality targets.

The United States, the European Union and China have the most developed regional water standards. Forward-looking water-stressed countries in the Middle East, such as Israel and Jordan, have established highly efficient Water Boards. In fact, due to the efficient job of Jordan’s Water Board, 93% of the population today has access to high quality drinking water..[1] As shown in the graph below, in Asia and parts of Africa a quarter of the population has newly-gained access to safe drinking water since the t0urn of the century.

Private and Public Water Testing in the US

In the US, the EPA is responsible for testing drinking water for all urban areas, but they are not responsible for testing well water and this must be done privately. They also recommend that people living near pharmaceutical and cosmetic factories have their water checked by private companies, since regulations do not require testing of many of the chemicals used in these industries. [3] In addition, anywhere that fracking is being done requires private testing since December 2011, when water pollution was proved to be caused by hydraulic fracking. [4]

The Drinking Water Program in California, for example, has nearly 200 staff located in 24 districts and offices throughout the state that enforce the federal and state Safe Drinking Water Act at a yearly salary cost in the millions. [6}


Most of the commercial laboratories are single-site firms with fewer than five employees and they only service institutions in the immediate vicinity. While large and medium size labs can check all sources of water, the set-up cost is in the millions of dollars (see the sidebar to the right) and the competition is stiff. The charges for testing by private companies, can be very pricey. Here is a small sample of testing costs and, for expedited results, the cost is double:

  • Bacteriological sampling: (Total Coliform and E-Coli): $25-$37.
  • FHA-Short Series: Coliform, lead, nitrate, nitrite: $75-$100.
  • FHA/HUD or “FHA-Short” Water Test Series: Coliform, Lead, Nitrite, Nitrate, Iron, Manganese, Sodium, pH, Hardness (Ca, Mg), Alkalinity, Turbidity: $116-$250.
  • FHA-Long Series: Coliform, pH, Chloride, Conductivity, MBAS, Nitrite, Nitrate, Ammonia, Lead, Copper, Total Hardness (Ca, Mg), Iron, Manganese, Zinc: $200.-$275. [7}
Combating the High Price of Testing

There is no doubt that, in the future, more and more water testing will be required. With new water contaminants being found every few years, we are already at the point that water has to be regularly checked for 100 different non-conformities. There are over a quarter of a million tests done globally every year and this number is on the rise.

To combat the high price of testing, some grassroots organizations have sprung up that subsidize the cost of water testing.

The Surfrider Foundation, for example, is a non-profit organization that tests the water at beaches. The one-time equipment costs are $6,000 and the cost per test is only $6 because the tests are run by volunteers.

Another strategy proposed to keep the costs affordable is the use automation in all aspects of testing. Robotics can do much of the work of high salaried technicians and computer programs can gather results and keep up to date databases.

Final Note

As a company at the forefront of water measurement, Arad is well aware of the challenges and costs of keeping the water that flows through our meters clean. It is an issue that should concern all who are committed to making sure that our children and their children will have access to clean and safe water.

References

[1] WHO/UNICEF (2014) Progress on drinking water 2014 UPDATE and sanitation. WHO and UNICEF, Geneva
[2] WHO Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality THIRD EDITION Geneva 2008
[3] Environmental Protection Agency
[4] Lustgarten, Abrahm. “Feds Link Water Contamination to Fracking for the First Time”. Pro Publica.
[5] American Water Works Association, Denver
[6] California State Water Board, California EPA
[7] Connecticut Water Regional Authority, Wisconsin State Laboratory of Hygiene
[8] “Water testing – pass or fail?”. Global Water Intelligence

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