How is your water made safe to drink?

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Isn’t it great you can dip a cup into your local river and quench your thirst on the spot?

Oh … you can’t?

Well, you can; but, it’s not a good idea. There are a lot of impurities in untreated surface water, including many forms of bacteria, that can make you very sick. So then, how does the water go from flowing down the river to pouring from your faucet to be used for cooking, drinking, and brushing your teeth?

Clean drinking water is essential for survival, and access to a reliable and safe drinking water supply is a fundamental human necessity. But most people never consider how it gets to that point.

This basic necessity of life, particularly if obtained from a river or lake, must travel through an intricate system of treatment stages so that when you pour that glass of water from the faucet, there is peace of mind that the water is safe and healthy.

Is the water really that dirty that it needs to be cleaned first? Yes, in most cases, it is! Even before there were fertilizers applied to lawns or autos leaking oil and gas that could be washed into the river during the next rainfall, there were the natural processes of nature that could contaminate water. Think dinosaur droppings. But there are also certain algae and microorganisms that are naturally a part of the aquatic food chain that can cause illness in humans and animals when ingested.

Water treatment isn’t a new process. The earliest documentation of water treatment was found in Sanskrit writings in Egyptian tombs that date back to about the 15th century BC, according to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. They would boil water over a fire, heat the water under the sun, dip heated iron into the water, and filter it through gravel and sand.

Clean Water

The water that makes its way to a treatment plant comes from lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater, which is open to environmental contaminants and liable to become polluted.

So, it takes a complex system of treatment stages to remove impurities, bacteria, and parasites so that consuming it will not make you ill.

In general, treatment to generate safe drinking water requires several steps for all surface water treatment facilities, and potentially additional treatment steps may be added depending on site-specific circumstances:

  • Remove large debris and materials from the water
  • Use chemicals to make dirt and remaining materials stick together
  • Take out all the dirt clods that have bonded
  • Filter the water to remove any remaining suspended solids, chemicals, and some parasites, viruses, and bacteria;
  • Disinfect the water to destroy any remaining parasites, viruses, and bacteria.

Of course, there are several purposes for water. Treatment plants that produce drinking water face a higher water quality standard than when water is used for other purposes.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality provides a Consumer Confidence Report that allows the public to access information about drinking water quality. The report includes information about the source of water used - i.e., rivers, lakes, reservoirs, or aquifers - chemical contaminants, bacteriological contaminants, compliance with drinking water rules, and so forth. The reports from the community public water systems can be found here. Information on water systems designated as non-community can be viewed here at the Texas Drinking Water Watch.

The BRA Environmental Services team performs long-term water quality monitoring of Brazos River basin rivers, streams, and reservoirs. These sites are monitored for parameters used by the TCEQ and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to assess the extent that waters of the Brazos meet established surface water quality standards and or criteria.

Water Sampling

Federal and state laws help ensure that the water flowing from the tap is protected from harmful contaminants. The Clean Water Act was passed in 1948 and stated, among other things, that discharge of pollutants - such as dumping of industrial chemicals - into our waterways is prohibited. Meanwhile, the Safe Drinking Water Act, passed by Congress in 1974, requires many actions to protect drinking water and its sources—rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and groundwater wells. Through that act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sets national health-based standards for drinking water to protect against naturally occurring and man-made contaminants.

You can stay better informed by knowing who keeps your drinking water cleaned.

The Brazos River Authority makes untreated water available to cities, industries, and businesses across the Brazos River basin. These entities then perform their own treatment, depending on their needs and uses for the water. But the BRA also helps treat potable or drinking water for some communities.

The BRA owns and operates the East Williamson County Regional Water System, which provides treated water to the city of Taylor, the Jonah Water Special Utility District, and the Lone Star Regional Water Authority.

An intake structure on Lake Granger pumps raw water 3.6 miles to the treatment plant, and then treated water is pumped to consumers. The treatment plant at the East Williamson County Regional Water System was expanded to 12.3 million gallons per day in 2009. As the area sees a population boom, the need for more clean water also increases. The BRA Board of Directors in August 2021 approved $2.7 million to begin an expansion process to meet the increasing water needs and growth projections.

The BRA also contracts with the city of Leander to operate and maintain the city’s Sandy Creek Water Treatment Plant, which treats water from Lake Travis.

East Williamson County Regional Water System
East Williamson County Regional Water System

These plants treat water pumped from the lakes through various physical and chemical processes, including filtration and disinfection, to provide safe, high-quality drinking water.

Water is an intricate part of our daily lives and ensuring that water is clean and safe is a top priority. The BRA makes this happen through skilled operations and maintenance staff with thorough knowledge of treatment processes and requirements. Planning for future expansion, ongoing training, and staying up-to-date with current regulations is ongoing work that ensures the result of clean, safe water.

You also can help keep water clean.

  • Don’t dump your unused medicines in the toilet or the trash. At this point, the best way to reduce the number of chemicals in our water is at their source. Improper disposal of old or unneeded drugs at homes or medical facilities is one of the factors that is probably the easiest to change.
  • Apply fertilizers to our lawn and garden according to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Nutrients occur naturally in the environment and are the elements that aid in the growth of plant life. However, nutrients may unintentionally be added to the water system when too much fertilizer is applied to farm fields and lawns.
  • Stormwater pollution is a major cause of contamination in our waterways. During rain events, everything from plastic bags to pesticides to the auto oil that leaks from cars can be carried from our streets into our streams. Being conscience of stormwater pollution consequences will ensure that your local recreational and drinking water sources, as well as wildlife, will be safe for you and your community to enjoy.
  • One of the most typical neighborhood pollutants in your area is bacteria, specifically the type that occurs when it rains, and uncollected pet waste is washed off your property and into local storm sewers and waterways. It’s as simple as picking up after your pet.

Water quality is one of the highest priorities of the Brazos River Authority. With a few simple steps, you too can make a difference in Texas’ water supply.