Few people think much of the science behind the water that flows through their faucets. Yet providing clean, safe drinking water continues to be a challenge for water distribution systems across the country.
According to the Government of Canada, there are more than 50 long-term drinking water advisories in 32 communities. The Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality — established through a partnership with provinces, territories and several federal departments — is the basis for establishing drinking water quality requirements for all Canadians, explains UBC Okanagan doctoral student Haroon Mian.
“Human factors play an increasingly large role in the quality of drinking water,” explains Dr. Mian, lead author in a recent study supporting a new water quality assessment technique. He, along with a team of researchers in UBCO’s School of Engineering, recently created a water impurity testing method that will be a game changer when it comes to water samples.
Their water quality assessment technique considers all possible contaminants simultaneously while testing the water’s quality. The new procedure can compare water samples with hundreds of baselines, not just a few as is common today, to ensure water quality.
To do this, the team developed a water footprint-based assessment tool that takes into account many factors and evaluates the contribution of deteriorating drinking water quality on national and global water footprints. With such a broad viewpoint, the approach is able to identify the impacts of nearly every possible contaminant.
“Our new technique provides decision-makers with important metrics to ensure their systems address unforeseen issues,” says Dr. Mian.
According to Dr. Mian, no assessment technique or tool can foresee every possible variable such as contaminants caused by flooding and chemical spills. But those issues can be mitigated by improving data collection throughout water distribution systems. And their new technique does just that.
“We use a greywater footprint within our analysis, which calculates the amount of water one would need to dissipate pollutants within a system, in order to make it safe to drink,” he explains.
That greywater footprint can lead to water utilities making safe, reliable and faster decisions, adds Dr. Rehan Sadiq, engineering professor and one of the co-authors of this report.
“Reliable water quality monitoring and assessment can help to minimize the risk of water quality failures in water distribution networks,” says Dr. Sadiq. “Ultimately we want to ensure that whenever we turn on the tap, the water that comes out is safe. And ideally, we want this to be possible for all Canadians.”
Now, researchers are turning their attention to larger, more complex water distribution networks.
“In the not too distant future, we look forward to designing a real-time monitoring network that uses this assessment tool as its engine,” says Dr. Mian.
The research, in collaboration with Laval University, was supported by funding from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada. It was published in Science of the Total Environment.