Land & Water Program Manager
Central District Health Department
A Look at Drinking Water Monitoring in Idaho
Recent news of lead-contaminated drinking water in Flint, Michigan may have you wondering how drinking water in Idaho is managed, monitored and kept safe. And what is your local health department’s role in maintaining healthy drinking water? Read on!
Regulation and Monitoring: Who does what?
Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has primacy over the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in Idaho. They have a long-standing and robust regulatory and educational public drinking water program. CDHD contracts with DEQ to oversee the smallest of the Public Water Systems (PWS) in our district. Among the estimated 1,960 public drinking water systems in Idaho, CDHD oversees approximately 130 drinking water systems in Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties.
What is a Public Water System (PWS)?
PWS is a system that provides water to the public for human consumption through pipes or other constructed conveyances if such system:
- serves 25 or more people for 60 or more days per year or
- 15 or more service connections..
A PWS can be one of three types
1. Community Water System
Serves at least 15 service connections or 25 people year-round in their primary residences (e.g., most cities and towns, apartments, and mobile home parks with their own water supplies). About 38% of Idaho's PWSs are classified as community water systems.
2. Nontransient Noncommunity Water System (NTNCWS)
Serves at least 25 of the same persons over 6 months per year (e.g., schools, churches, nursing homes, and factories, and hospitals that have their own water source). Almost 12% of Idaho's PWSs fit into this category
3. Transient Noncommunity Water Systems (TNCWS)
Serves an average of at least 25 persons (but not the same 25) less than 6 months per year (e.g., campgrounds or highway rest stops that have their own water source). About half of Idaho's PWSs meet these criteria.
Your Local Health District’s Role
Under contract with DEQ, CDHD and the other local health districts regulate:
- Ground water community water systems that serve fewer than 25 premises or households,
- Nontransient noncommunity water systems and,
- Transient noncommunity water systems.
DEQ retains control over larger ground water systems and all surface water systems, like Flint, Michigan, as they typically require much more complex treatment and engineering than ground water systems. Most CDHD-managed systems are smaller subdivisions not served by large municipalities.
CDHD’s role is to ensure system owners/managers test the water on a prescribed schedule and provide information and remedies to users if a problem is found. This includes testing for lead. CDHD also conducts periodic sanitary surveys of the wellhead, pump house, storage tanks, treatment components, etc.
How can I find out what is in my water and should I have it tested?
Public water systems routinely monitor for commonly found contaminants, so the chance that your water is contaminated is very low. If you think you have a problem with your water, contact your local water system right away to discuss any concerns. If the system owner or operator is unavailable, contact your nearest DEQ regional office.
If your home is served by a community water system, get a copy of your annual water quality report (CCR) before you pay to test your water. This report will tell you which contaminants, if any, have been found in your drinking water and at what levels. You are always free to conduct additional sampling for your residence; however, in most cases this is not necessary.
Without knowing what to look for, the cost of testing drinking water on a hit or miss basis can be very high. Depending on how many contaminants you test for, a water test can cost from $15 to hundreds of dollars. If you tested for all possible contaminants, testing costs could reach into the thousands of dollars.
What about wells?
Idaho wells, or in rare cases, surface water sources that serve fewer than 25 people or have fewer than 15 service connections, are not regulated in any way. DEQ, the health districts, and other natural resource and trade associations like the Idaho Rural Water Association, periodically provide education to private well owners to remind them that periodic sampling is a good idea. CDHD recommends well owners test on an annual basis for coliform bacteria. While CDHD does not regulate private wells, it does often serve as a resource for well owners. For information on Water Sampling, click here.
What should I know about lead?
Lead is hard to avoid completely. It can be found in old paint, water pipes and brass water faucets, in dirt, at some job sites, and in metal used for some hobbies.
Graphic Source: Genesee County Health Department
What happened in Flint, Michigan?
The drinking water situation in Flint, Michigan is complex financially and politically, leading up to a decision to stop using the Detroit PWS and draw water from the Flint River. The river water was more corrosive than the treated Detroit PWS water and caused lead from older pipes (pre-1986) to leach into the drinking water. The Safe Drinking Water Act amendments in 1986 banned lead flux, solder, and pipes for use in new or repaired PWS.
How did lead get into the water in Flint, Michigan?