The Division of Drinking Water (DDW) is responsible for implementing programs that ensure safe and reliable drinking water throughout the state. Programs include:
- Source protection for drinking water supplies
- Financial assistance for construction or upgrades to water systems
- Engineering plan review
- Implementation of EPA water quality and monitoring requirements
- Community assistance with contamination issues
- Site inspections of public water systems
- Certification and training for system operators
Online training and testing offered by the division helps systems operators, particularly those in rural areas, obtain continuing education unit (CEU) credits and certification. DDW also makes extensive use of technology and planning tools to streamline its processes, increase operational efficiencies, and reduce costs.
“My experience with DDW has not been the typical government regulator. DDW has partnered with us on many challenging issues, and we have come together with solutions which have been for the benefit of public health and well-being of our water customers and consumers.”
–Scott Anderson, Woods Cross City Public Works Director
Drinking Water Contaminants
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies contaminants in drinking water and sets regulatory limits for certain contaminants as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). EPA has delegated primary enforcement responsibility (primacy) for Utah public water systems to the Division of Drinking Water. DDW works with public water systems to ensure they meet the federal drinking-water standards under the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR). These legally enforceable standards and treatment techniques protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants in drinking water.
Lead is a toxic metal that is sometimes used in plumbing materials or in water-service lines used to bring water from the main line to homes, schools, or other buildings. Lead is a significant health concern, particularly for children, whose developing bodies are more susceptible to its harmful effects. Adverse health impacts from lead include damage to the brain and kidneys, reduced IQ and attention span, learning disabilities, poor classroom performance, hyperactivity, behavioral problems, and impaired growth.
Lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s, drinking-water system heightened awareness and concern among Utah residents about the possibility of lead in their own drinking water. Utah’s public water systems employ many measures to ensure the water is safe to drink. The Safe Drinking Water Act’s (SDWA’s) Lead and Copper Rule requires that public water systems control the corrosivity of their water. (Highly corrosive water was responsible for the high levels of lead in Flint, Michigan’s, drinking water). Systems must collect samples at customer taps in homes that are more likely to have plumbing materials containing lead. If the lead concentrations exceed the 15 micrograms per liter (µg/L) action level in more than 10 percent of the taps sampled, the water system must take additional actions to control corrosion in the drinking water. SDWA also requires public water systems to prepare and distribute an annual water quality report called the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) to its customers. The CCR contains information about any contaminants found in the water, including lead.
Most lead problems in homes and schools, however, do not originate with the finished drinking water provided by the water supplier, but from lead pipes, solder, and fixtures within the house or school. In Utah, most drinking water sources from reservoirs and groundwater are extremely low in lead content. However, lead increases in water when water flows through lead pipes or plumbing in buildings. Service lines — the pipes that connect homes, schools, or other buildings to the water main — can also have lead in them. There may also be lead pipes, pipes connected with lead solder, or brass faucets or fittings containing lead inside homes or schools. Lead levels are highest when the water has been sitting in lead pipes for several hours. Additionally, hot water can draw lead out of pipes, solder, or fixtures and release it into the water more quickly.
Currently, 555 water systems in the state of Utah sample for lead. In 2017, only two percent of water systems exceeded either the lead or copper action levels. DDW works with the water systems to provide notice to the consumers, conduct follow up testing, and identify treatment options. In most cases, high samples are due to improper sampling procedure and not indicative of widespread corrosion. Nevertheless, a public water system will still be required to increase its lead and copper monitoring to ensure the safety of the water quality and distribution system.
Success Story: Lead in Schools Initiative
In January 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sent a letter to all State Superintendents recommending that schools test their drinking water for lead. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and the Utah Department of Health (DOH) partnered with Utah schools to conduct voluntary sampling for lead in their drinking water. While sampling for lead is not currently required for schools serviced by a public water system, DEQ and DOH urged schools to sample the drinking water in each building to ensure the health and safety of schoolchildren and staff.
DEQ and DOH reached out to several school districts in spring 2017 and asked them to participate in a voluntary pilot study to sample for lead in the drinking water at their schools. While most of the pilot-study test results fell below the EPA action level of 15 µg/L, some of the samples exceeded that level. Schools with elevated levels have remediated the problem through fixture replacement, system flushing, and in-school water treatment followed by resampling to ensure that lead levels in the drinking water are now below the action level. Schools may need to establish a regular sampling schedule depending on the control measures they put into place to keep lead exposure low.
Action Level for Lead
EPA is required by law to determine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur. These health-based levels are called maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs). EPA set the MCLG for lead in drinking water at zero because the best available science has not been able to determine a safe level for lead in drinking water. However, the agency did set an action level of 15 micrograms per liter (µg/L) that triggers additional actions by public water systems if over 10 percent of the faucets sampled exceed this level. In 2015, EPA began work on developing a health-based household standard for lead in drinking water; these studies are still underway. Since the 15 µg/L action level is the only standard available under current law, states sampling for lead in their schools have been measuring their test results against this standard.
DDW has received data from approximately 78 percent of Utah school districts since testing began in 2017. When a problem is found, school districts have acted quickly to remediate the issue and retest. For example, a sample site in Cache School District was found to have elevated lead levels, and the school immediately replaced the tap and retested. Unfortunately, the replacement didn’t fix the problem. After further investigation, old brass fittings were found behind the sink; these were likely the source of the problem. The school district was very quick to respond to the problem and follow through on additional testing. While it may be difficult to evaluate the risk when only two taps are tested, this testing provides a snapshot of the lead occurrence in Utah schools.
So far, only nine percent of tested schools show all samples under the detectable limit. The detectable limit, however, is not the same as the action level. EPA has set the maximum contaminant level goals (MCLG) for lead in drinking water at zero because the best available science has not determined a safe level for lead in drinking water. However, the agency has set an action level of 15 µg/L that triggers additional actions, such as the replacement or repair of fixtures.
School-sampling data to date:
- Thirty-two school districts (78 percent) and 656 schools (73 percent) have collected a total of 1629 samples.
- Eighty-five percent of school districts have agreed to sample or sampled in past programs.
- Forty-five schools (8.8 percent of schools) had no samples with detectable lead. Ninety-one percent of the schools sampling have at least one sample with detectable lead.
- 33 samples from 22 different schools have shown levels above the action limit. The school districts have worked quickly and diligently to remediate the high sites through flushing and tap replacement.
Many of the health departments have provided critical assistance to DDW and school districts to ensure schools had access to expert advice and support during the sampling process.
Harmful algal blooms occur when normally occurring cyanobacteria in the water multiply quickly to form visible colonies or blooms. These blooms sometimes produce potent cyanotoxins that can pose serious health risks to humans and animals.
While cyantoxin is considered an unregulated contaminant under the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR), HABs are still a possible source of contamination for surface waters in Utah. DDW recommends that public water systems using surface water assess their vulnerability to potential HABs, and those water systems found to be vulnerable prepare a Cyanotoxin Management Plan to respond to possible emergency situations, including HABs. DDW believes it is beneficial to the water system as well as the consumer to have defined procedures in place to prevent harmful levels of cyanotoxins from reaching finished drinking water.
To assist public water systems in the preparation of these plans, DDW developed a HAB Response Plan in 2017 that provides water systems with guidelines, important HABs information, and the references needed to develop their own Cyanotoxin Management Plan. The plan includes a protocol for monitoring, sampling, and analysis of source, raw, and finished water (as necessary). The plan references Drinking Water Health Advisories from both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the World Health Organization (WHO) for three cyanobacterial toxins (microcystins, cylindrospermopsin, and anatoxin-a) and offers recommendations for public notification based on levels of cyanotoxins detected in the finished water.
The division also assembled a comprehensive list of resources for public water systems, including water treatment optimization for cyanotoxins, recommendations for public water systems to manage cyantoxins in drinking water, methods for identifying blooms, and sample templates to use when issuing drinking-water health advisories.
DDW provides financial assistance to drinking-water systems across the state
The following entities received loans and grants in 2017 to help ensure that these systems were able to provide Utah residents with safe drinking water.
- Cedarview Montwell
- Boulder Farmstead
- Tropic Town
- Old Irontown
- Rocky Ridge Town
- Big Water
San Juan County
- San Juan Spanish Valley
- Wales Town
- Cove SSD
- Lizard Bench
- Bridge Hollow
- Community Water
- Big Plains SSD
- Virgin Town
- Torrey Town
DDW administers two financial assistance programs: the state revolving fund (SRF) and the federal state revolving fund (DWSRF). The state revolving fund program provides funding to political subdivisions such as cities, towns, and districts. Federal SRF funds are available for privately and publicly owned community water systems and nonprofit, non-community water systems.
State SRF assistance helps water systems plan, design, build and/or repair drinking water system infrastructure, much of it in rural areas of the state. Financial assistance is also available for engineering studies and master plans to determine community needs and identify best alternatives to correct system problems. During Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, the State of Utah authorized $100,000 to help drinking water systems prepare master plans or engineering studies and another $18.1 million to 21 drinking water systems for construction projects. In addition, financial assistance packages totaling approximately $5 million for four previously authorized water system improvement projects were finalized through loan closings or bond purchases.
Since 1983, approximately $382.25 million in SRF assistance has been awarded to 454 drinking-water system improvement projects. DDW’s financial assistance programs can help bridge the gap between what a system has and what it needs, including compliance with regulations, increased water demand, or resolving an emergency situation.
The Drinking Water Board authorized $1,091,273 to Hanksville Town to replace undersized pipelines, replace old fire hydrants, and build a new drinking-water treatment plant to remove arsenic from the town’s water supply. Hanksville will also install new customer water meters and a telemetry system to improve system operations.
West Erda Improvement District
West Erda Improvement District (WEID) received $1,700,600 to connect to the Stansbury Park Improvement District and replace aging, undersized pipelines within the community. This connection resolves some serious issues that plagued the WEID system for many years, including low water pressure, the failure of the system’s only drinking water source, and a significant lack of water-storage capacity.
The Drinking Water Board authorized $7,394,350 to Springdale Town to build a new drinking-water treatment plant. Springdale’s existing treatment plant facility is aging, difficult to maintain, and incapable of meeting the current demands placed on it from population growth and increased tourism to Zion National Park and the surrounding area. The new plant will accommodate these current demands and also allow for expansion to accommodate increased capacity to meet future needs.
The division regulates over 1,000 public water systems in Utah. The engineering-review program reviews and approves drinking water-related projects received from public water systems or their consultants. Such reviews verify conformance with existing state rules and common engineering practices with the goal of ensuring a safe and reliable supply of drinking water. The engineering-review team works hard to ensure that the design and construction of drinking-water facilities conform to regulations and common engineering practices.
Engineering Success Story: Waiver Program
The engineering-review team is constantly looking for ways to streamline its processes to optimize limited staff resources and provide customers with excellent service. The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget recognized the DDW engineering program several years ago for its efforts in using the SUCCESS Framework program to achieve a 20 percent improvement in the efficiency of its work and services to ensure Utah residents have clean drinking water.
The engineering program continues to find ways to streamline its processes and improve its customer service. On November 7, 2017, DDW ended the Plan Submittal Waiver Program for waterline installation and adopted a new program in its place. The new program allows water systems to install certain water transmission and distribution lines without plan review by using approved standard installation drawings and specifications. This new rule replaced an existing waiver program with a new program designed to reduce the regulatory burden associated with waterline construction. The new rule allows a public water system with approved waterline installation standards to install waterlines up to 16 inches in diameter without waivers, plan approvals, or operating permits. The approved standards are good for five years.
So far, 39 water systems have received approval under the new rule. This rule revision substantially reduces the workload for both DDW and water systems. DDW engineering staff are actively reaching out to water systems and encouraging them to apply and have their waterline standards approved by DDW. The division anticipates its workload and efficiency will continue to improve as more water systems receive this approval.
DDW works with water system operators and public health officials when contaminants threaten drinking water systems or sources. This spring and summer, DDW provided technical, engineering, and public-health advice when floods, fires, and E. coli contamination jeopardized drinking water supplies.
Drinking water contamination can occur when:
- Harmful bacteria enter the water.
- Accidents, power outages, or heavy water use for firefighting reduce water pressure.
- Water mains break.
- Floods wash out drinking water sources and compromise infrastructure.
- Fires damage water/wastewater infrastructure.
DDW helps water systems develop and implement emergency response plans when service interruption, cross contamination, or natural disasters contaminate drinking water. The division also offers boil advisory guidelines to protect public health when drinking water is contaminated.
Torrey Town Waterline Break
In June 2017, a break in the main waterline from the spring supplying the town’s storage tanks drained the tanks. The leak was repaired and the waterline flushed and disinfected, but the storage tanks remained low because residents continued to use water, preventing the source spring from replenishing the tanks. The town remained on a boil order as low water pressure and residential/business usage continued to drain the tanks. Torrey struggled for four days for their water system to catch up with demand, and eventually declared a state of emergency. System investigations uncovered a defective pressure relief valve and blockage in the line that further complicated water delivery issues.
DDW and DEQ supported Torrey and Wayne County during the water crisis by sampling for contamination and tracking down sampling results, inspecting the drinking water system, collaborating with the local health department on the issuance and lifting of boil orders, and coordinating with the Rural Water Association (RWAU) Circuit Rider, town officials, and the Division of Emergency Management as they worked to get potable water delivered, the waterline repaired, and tanks refilled.
Brian Head Fire
A major wildfire ripped through 72,000 acres of forest in Southeastern Utah in summer 2017, forcing the evacuation of Brian Head and threatening water and wastewater infrastructure in the area. The fire quickly spread into the watershed containing the five springs that supply Panguitch with most of its drinking water. The city decided to divert the culinary water drawn from these five springs until it could assess the fire damage to its spring boxes and facilities. Residents then drew water from the one well in town.
DDW responded quickly and effectively to the emergency to ensure safe water was available for Panguitch residents. The DDW emergency-response team coordinated efforts between multiple state and local partners, including the Utah Division of Emergency Management, Garfield County, Panguitch City, Brian Head Town, the Agriculture Community Liaison, Fire Incidence Command, and the RWAU. DDW engineering staff looked for ways to keep water service in the town. The drinking-water monitoring team assessed the sampling requirements and types of samples needed, the amount of chlorine the system should use, and when the springs could be brought back online.
Plans are underway to drill a second well for Panguitch to help ensure the town has access to an alternative water source in the event of future emergencies.
Certification and Training
Certified Operator training and technical and engineering support, particularly for smaller rural water systems, are critical for the safe delivery of water to residents. Utah has 789 small water systems that serve less than 500 people. Since many operators of small water systems work on a part-time or voluntary basis, they depend heavily on DDW for technical assistance and training.
Proper training and certification safeguard water supplies by ensuring that water system operators are knowledgeable about operation and maintenance procedures as well as regulatory requirements. This protects the health and safety of customers served by these systems as well as the traveling public visiting or passing through the communities served by these water systems. Under Utah law, all community and non-transient, non-community water systems must have a certified operator who is responsible for the proper operation and administration of their system. DDW’s operator certification program works in collaboration with local health departments and the Rural Water Association of Utah to administer written, oral, and online certification exams.
DDW also provides study guides and presentations to help applicants prepare for the certification exam. DDW’s Cross Connection Control program trains and certifies backflow technicians who make sure that water cross connections don’t allow contaminants to enter a drinking water system from back siphoning or back pressure. Once certified, operators are required to complete continuing education unit (CEU) credits to stay current on the latest technological and regulatory developments. DDW offers online training screencasts and webinars to help operators obtain CEU credits towards certificate renewals.
Success Story: Drinking Water Webinars
In 2017, DDW launched a monthly educational webinar series. The webinars are free and broadcast live via YouTube to water professionals working across the state. Certified water operators are eligible for CEUs by watching the webinars and filling out a short quiz and feedback form.
DDW’s use of webcast technology increases access across the state to updated training, particularly to rural communities where in-person training is less frequent. Each webinar begins with a brief overview of current issues relating to drinking water in Utah, reminders of upcoming deadlines and events, and changes coming from DDW. The webcast then focuses on a single topic for the remainder of the training. Issues covered in 2017 have ranged from how climate change is affecting Utah’s water future (presented by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) hydrologist Brian McInnery) to emergency sampling protocols (presented by the Weber Basin Water Conservancy District’s Michelle Deras).
The webinars have received nearly 2,500 views and over 100 subscribers to the DDW YouTube channel. The program will continue in 2018 as a point of outreach from the division to other Utah water professionals.
Continuous Improvement/SUCCESS Framework
Division of Drinking Water staff, DEQ District Engineers, and local health departments conduct sanitary surveys at public water systems to assess each system’s capability to deliver safe drinking water.DDW continues to develop strategies to improve the allocation of resources, improve performance, and implement innovations that advance quality, efficiency, and effectiveness. Federal funding has decreased in recent years, and federal requirements have increased. Optimizing staff time and reducing costs has been a necessity as well as a top priority for the division and has led to impressive results.
Continuous Improvement Spotlight: IPS Workgroup
DDW assembled a workgroup to review and make improvements to the state’s Water System Rating Criteria, also known as the “Improvement Priority System Rule” (IPS). The IPS Rule is used to track public water systems by providing a numeric score for each potential deficiency or violation across all of the division’s rules, based on their significance to public health.
These criteria serve as the foundation for the division’s sanitary survey program, which is a review of a public water system to assess its capability to supply safe drinking water. The questions used during a survey are based on the IPS Rule. DDW identified the following issues with the sanitary survey program:
- The lack of alignment of the deficiency points related to their significance to public health
- Questions regarding the redundancy and accuracy of survey questions
- Inconsistencies between the IPS rule and other rules
- Problems with the software used for managing questions
Before replacing the software, DDW decided to form a workgroup to look at the IPS Rule.
The workgroup found that the IPS Rule did in fact contain many inconsistencies and redundancies, and the deficiency points were not in alignment throughout the rule or, in some cases, with respect to their public-health risk. The workgroup also determined that the rule itself is difficult to manage and maintain because when other drinking-water rules change, the IPS rule needs to be updated as well.
The workgroup proposes to shorten the IPS rule from 38 pages to one-to-two pages and have the details of the specific deficiencies and violations listed in a guidance document. Deficiencies and violations will be reviewed for inconsistencies with other DDW rules, and point values will be aligned in the process to reflect the significance to public health. The workgroup determined that the process to update and modify the guidance document could be done internally with greater ease than a formal rule change every time other rules are updated. These proposals will streamline the IPS while maintaining the intent of the rule.
Success Story: Compliance Monitoring Data Portal
The Compliance Monitoring Data Portal (CMDP), developed by EPA, enables drinking-water utilities and laboratories to report data electronically to DDW, resulting in fewer errors and greater efficiency. The portal increases data accuracy and completeness and will decrease the reporting burden for DDW staff.
Utah was the first state in the nation to adopt the CMDP and utilize the new EPA CMDP protocol. Staff has been working hard to support laboratories and encourage them to use this portal to upload compliance data to the division. DDW currently has six labs online. Staff plans to bring more labs and water systems onboard during the coming year.
2017 Continuous Improvement Projects
DDW is always looking for ways to streamline its processes and improve outreach and collaboration with customers and stakeholders. Here are a few examples of the continuous improvement projects from 2017:
- Inclusion of an Emergency Response tracker in WaterLink to track drinking-water emergencies and DDW response
- Bulk upload of Continuing Education Units (CEUs). Water systems and sponsoring agencies can now submit an Excel file with multiple names/the names of attendees at a CEU training, which allows DDW to upload the list onto WaterLink without having to enter each name manually.
- Streamlined training and presentations that make it easy for staff in any section to use and present these materials.
- Development of tools, checklists, and guidance documents for consultants and water systems
- Outreach trainings to water systems and consultants
- Clarification and streamlining of certain drinking-water rules
- Work with water agencies on educational programs on lead and legionella
- Water-use data collection
- Collaboration with the DEQ Division of Water Quality on harmful algal blooms (HABs), and creation of a HABs guidance document for public water systems
- Improved interactions with water agencies and other state agencies related to water and public health.
Ongoing Continuous Improvement Projects
Engineering Plan Review
Process improvements have increased the percentage of plan approvals and plan submittal waivers issued within 45 days of receipt of the initial engineering plan or request. Staff continues to promote plan-review waiver status for eligible water systems and submit waiver requests for engineering projects. Plan-review waivers save staff time and offer eligible water systems a way to fast-track projects. The team also leveraged existing resources to provide increased benefits to the public at a lower cost. Their hard work led to a 20 percent improvement in program efficiencies.
Engineering plan review improvements underway include:
- Development of engineering templates that integrate changes and updates across sections and offer comprehensive checklists of items that must be completed before plans are sent to the director of DDW for approval
- Improved fact sheets, checklists, and flow charts for various types of reviews to help those outside the agency understand expectations, and those inside the agency use a standardized review process that ensures consistency and quality
- Active marketing of plan review waivers to eligible systems
The division is trying to reduce the number of false Notice of Violations (NOVs) issued due to incorrect data. Improvements include:
- Better rule implementation through more timely compliance determinations
- Increased outreach to water systems, both online and through phone calls, to inform them of their monitoring requirements
- Data cleanup in the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) to minimize errors
Operator Certification Exams
DDW has saved staff hours by migrating from paper to online exams and streamlining the exam process. Improvements include:
- Forms to gather updated contact information and feedback to improve the exam process/experience
- Online training materials
- An automated system to remind operators when they need to renew their certification and the process they need to follow to renew
- Automated renewals for operators
Reminder Emails Electronic Calls and Hints (REECH) Alert System
DDW rolled out its REECH alert system in 2016 to automate the process for notifying operators about certification renewals, upcoming trainings, or required sampling. Similar systems used in other states have reduced drinking water violations. For example, REECH looks through the division’s database to see which samples are due and initiates emails, phone calls, and text messages to remind the system and the operator about the samples. The alert system continues to send reminders until DDW receives the required samples. REECH can also be used in an emergency to provide information to customers about boil orders or updates on drinking-water contamination.
Five standard reports are now available online for each water system. These public water system reports are one of the most popular resources on the DEQ web site, providing public water systems with information on how the state identifies water-system elements, monitoring requirements, bacteriologic sample results, operator certification expiration dates, and continuing-education credits.
Data input from onsite inspections
Staff can now input information found during onsite inspections into handheld tablets that can be uploaded directly to DDW’s database. This streamlines the previous process, which required staff to handwrite field notes that were later entered into the office’s database.
Geographic or administrative grouping of water systems for site inspections
By organizing regularly required site inspections into geographic or administrative groupings, DDW makes more efficient use of division personnel. Geographic grouping lets inspectors travel to sites located near each other and inspect all the water systems in the group in one day, saving travel time. By administratively grouping commonly owned or commonly managed water systems, DDW makes site inspections more convenient and efficient for both staff and owners.