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The Associated Press finished a 5-month study and found both prescription and over-the-counter drugs in the drinking water of 24 major metropolitan areas.   Everything from painkillers, like ibuprofen and acetaminophen, to prescription drugs for epilepsy and high cholesterol to hormones. 

Many utilities don’t test for pharmaceuticals.  It’s not required by EPA.  And utilities are under the gun to keep costs down, so they typically run the analyses mandated by law (which are already numerous and expensive).  The assumption is — if there were a potential problem, the regulatory community would already require testing and limits would be set. 

The regulators have been gearing up to monitor and control microconstituents (their word for new trace-level contaminants) for a while now.  With the AP study out in the open, that schedule will surely be ramped up.

Although the AP study found pharmaceuticals in both surface and ground water supplies (before treatment) and in some treated drinking water, their likely more prevalent in surface water sources. 

The big question is–what do we do about it?  Most water treatment methods aren’t designed to remove pharmaceuticals.  The methods that possibly can, such as reverse osmosis, are extremely expensive.  And the byproduct is a highly concentrated form of the contaminants removed.  Where do we dispose of that sidestream?

One way to help minimize the problem is proper disposal of prescription or nonprescription drugs that you don’t intend to use.  Instead of flushing them, put them in a plastic ziplock, crush them and mix them with coffee grounds or kitty litter.  Put the ziplock in the trash. 

We’ll be hearing more about this issue.  The American Water Works Association has some good informtion on their Drinktap website.  Check it out.


The U.S. West Coast has been at the forefront of water conservation and reuse for years.  After all, it’s a desert out there. 

So I wasn’t surprised to read an article in the National Rural Water Association’s Rural Water Magazine about Orange County, California’s new water reclamation plant.  

Reclaimed water is nothing new.  We’ve been using highly treated wastewater effluent for years to irrigate crops, golf courses and landscaping–or in cooling towers or other industrial applications.  But Orange County is the world’s largest plant designed to treat sewer water for use as drinking water supply. 

It’s not really “toilet-to-tap.”  But “indirect potable supply” will be the wave of the future.  Orange County’s system puts treated effluent through a rigorous process of filters, screens, chemicals and disinfectants, then injects it underground. 

Part of the water provides a barrier against saltwater intrusion while the other part slowly filters through porous rock into aquifers that supply 2.3 million people with drinking water. 

Think that sounds yucky?  Many people have been drinking “previously treated wastewater” for years.  Those cities with surface water supplies take their drinking water from rivers or streams that often have upstream sewer plants.  After treatment, where do you think many of them discharge the effluent? 

With rapid growth and dwindling supplies, we can count on more projects like the one in Orange County.  It’s certainly technically possible to produce good, drinkable water from what used to be a waste product.  But get out your wallet, because it won’t be cheap.  The price tag on Orange County’s 70 million gallon per day Groundwater Replinishment System was $481 million. 

The Georgia-Florida-Alabama water war has been going on for 18 years–and it looked like the three states might have a meeting of the minds at one point recently.  Especially considering this year’s record-setting drought.  But negotiations failed to resolve the battle over water rights in the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint and the Alabama-Coosa-Tallapoosa river basins. 

Georgia wants to hold more water in Lake Lanier to serve their burgeoning population. But Florida and Alabama claim that doing so causes downstream environmental damage and hurts commercial fishing, industry, and power plants.

Georgia’s Governor, Sony Perdue, says his state’s problems are more critical.  Florida and Alabama disagree. 

Bottom line for now–the Army Corps of Engineers and other feds will forcing their own water sharing plan on the region, according to Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.  Water Webster has posted Kempthorne’s letter to the governors.

Wouldn’t it have been better for the states to come to an agreement so they could be in charge of their own water program? 

We all know that water is essential to life–and the Museum of Natural History in New York is celebrating that fact with their exhibit, H2O = Life. 

From the physical properties of water, to waterworks, to contamination and regeneration . . . the exhibit explores every aspect of water.  And the ways we mistreat this critical resource. 

Science on a Sphere projects actual moving images of the Earth from space onto a six-foot-diameter globe

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to see the exhibit.  But just reading through the website is an education in itself.  H2O = Life is in New York at the American Museum of Natural History until May 26.  I understand through the Water Environment Federation that the exhibit will be traveling to various parts of the country, so keep an eye out for it.

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