Many people often overlook the value of their water supply. Do you? Can you imagine what your typical day would be like without clean, safe, and reliable water? Imagine a Day Without Water, on October 21, 2020, is the sixth annual day of recognition—intended to raise awareness and educate ourselves on the value of water. Explore the tips below, complete the linked activity with STEM-inclined students in your life, and help spread awareness.
For Imagine a Day Without Water, we choose to highlight Tetra Tech’s One Water approach and how we help communities protect their source water. Source water refers to the rivers, streams, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and groundwater that provide tap water to homes, businesses, and public services. A day without source water could mean no warm shower in the morning, no cup of coffee to start the day, no laundry services, or no way to quench your pets’ thirst. Protecting source water from pollution prevents exposure to contaminated water, helps reduce complexity and costs of treatment, improves water quality for wildlife and recreational use, and sustains the overall water supply.
As part of our commitment to source water protection—helping to make sure no one goes a day without water—we aid many public water systems’ development of and use of source water protection plans (SWPP). In developing SWPPs, Tetra Tech works with appropriate community representatives to understand communities’ water needs, collect existing data, conduct field investigations to verify data, identify potential sources of contamination, and present findings to local advisory committees. Local advisory committees use this information to help them prioritize issues and select protective actions for their SWPPs. We then help establish their SWPPs in various ways, including:
- Defining and prioritizing actions to protect source water and meet other community objectives
- Identifying cost-effective protection strategies and partnerships for balanced solutions
- Defining program tasks and milestones
- Highlighting resource needs (e.g., funding, expertise, staff) and opportunities for innovation
- Setting a timetable for achieving program goals and evaluating progress
- Establishing source water public education and outreach activities
- Developing contingency plans for short- and long-term water outage
- Developing emergency response procedures for spills or other incidents
- Determining if additional source water protection measures in the region are needed and adapting the SWPP accordingly
A fully developed SWPP includes a list of actions and measurable goals to protect and increase quality of source water. Examples of SWPP actions are:
- Restoring riparian (streamside) zones to reduce polluted runoff
- Stabilizing streambanks to reduce sedimentation
- Adding land protection/easements
- Establishing agricultural and forestry best management practices to control runoff
- Recovering and reusing stormwater and wastewater to extend the life and quality of source water
- Enacting local ordinances to limit certain activities in source water or wellhead protection areas
- Developing emergency response plans
- Educating local industries, businesses, and citizens on pollution prevention and source water protection
Our source water protection work help water systems serve other community and environmental objectives, including supporting the local economy. This can lead to new jobs and added revenue. It improves quality of life with creation of natural and recreational resources to increase the public’s access and enjoyment and uplifts underserved populations. It also achieves other environmental objectives such as maintaining functional ecosystem processes involving hydrology, minerals, the energy cycle, and biotic communities. Here are some simple actions you can take to help make sure your community doesn’t go a day without water:
HHW includes motor oil, pesticides, leftover paints and paint cans, chemical cleaning products, and medicines. Improper disposal can threaten the health of humans and animals. If poured down drains or toilets, some HHW can injure sanitation workers or contaminate septic tanks or wastewater treatment systems. Check with your local environmental, health, or solid waste agency for guidance on how to dispose of HHW. Consider purchasing environmentally friendly, natural products instead of chemical products, or search online for simple recipes to create your own.
Fertilizers and pesticides can contain harmful chemicals that can travel through the soil and contaminate groundwater, or can be carried by stormwater runoff to rivers, streams, and lakes.
Malfunctioning septic systems can release bacteria, viruses, and chemicals into groundwater and surface water, which can pollute nearby wells and downstream waters used for drinking and recreation. A septic service professional should inspect the average household septic system at least once every three years. Inspections of alternative systems with electrical float switches, pumps, or mechanical components should occur more often, typically once per year.
At homes that use septic tanks, prescription and over-the-counter drugs flushed down the toilet can seep through the soil and into groundwater. In areas where residences are connected to wastewater treatment plants, improper disposal of medications can lead to passage of those medications through the wastewater treatment system and entry into surface waters. These water sources could supply community drinking water systems farther downstream. Unfortunately, the typical drinking water treatment plant is not equipped to routinely remove medicines from source waters.
Join a beach, stream, or wetland cleanup; prepare a presentation about your watershed for a school or civic organization; organize a storm drain stenciling project; or post signs reminding residents that storm drains dump polluted runoff directly into their local water source.
Use your voice! Encourage your locality to invest resources to protect source water and build overall community resilience while also balancing economic, quality-of-life, and environmental factors.
Now that you understand the importance of and steps for source water protection, complete this activity to see how much you’ve learned.