Tag Archives: USEPA

May 9, 1922: Birth of Edwin E. Geldreich; 1936: Contra Costa Water District Incorporated.

May 9, 1922: Birth of Edwin E. Geldreich. Born May 9, 1922, he was the only child of his late parents Edwin E. Geldreich, Sr. and Myrtle E. Geldreich (Tuthill) of Cincinnati. A graduate of Hughes High School (Class of 1940), he went on to receive Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in the biological sciences from the University of Cincinnati. He served in the US Army in Europe from March 1944 to March 1946 during the Second World War. After the war, he joined what was then the Department of the Interior, working in a microbiology laboratory on issues related to drinking water. This research division was moved into the new Environmental Protection Agency when it was formed in 1970. There he became a world-class expert in the quality of drinking water, and travelled the world under the auspices of the World Health Organization to help developing nations improve the quality of their drinking water. For this work he received numerous awards, and authored several scientific books on the subject as well as many technical journal articles. He married Loretta M. Eibel of Covington, Kentucky, in 1950, and they remained married until her death on November 9, 2006 at the age of 85. He had many interests and hobbies, including being a licensed ham radio operator who built his own radios. He was also a skilled gardener, loved to play the organ, and enjoyed photography and travel. Edwin Emery Geldreich, Jr., passed away on Tuesday October 7, 2014, after a brief illness. He was 92 years old.

Construction of the Contra Costa Canal

May 9, 1936: Contra Costa Water District Incorporated. “As heavy industry and agriculture were being established in the early 1900s, factories and farms sprang up along the Delta to take advantage of the fresh water supply. But trouble was brewing.

Cycles of extreme salinity in the Delta were reported in the late summer and early fall months, when fresh water flows from the Sierra dried up and salt water from the San Francisco Bay flowed into the Delta. Occasionally, water from the San Joaquin River near Antioch became too brackish to use.

In the early 1920s (as a 13-year drought gripped the area), industry began to suffer from the Delta’s increasing salinity. To keep the factories operating, fresh water was hauled into the area in tank cars. The drought ended in 1930. Local farmers had to stop irrigating and land values declined….

On November 7, 1937, ground-breaking ceremonies for the Contra Costa Canal were held in Oakley. Over the next 11 years, the 48-mile-long canal was dug from the Delta intake at Rock Slough near Knightsen to the city of Martinez. The first water was delivered to the city of Pittsburg in 1940, and the occasion was marked with a three-day celebration called the “Water Fiesta” that include the largest parade ever seen in Contra Costa County, the coronation of a Fiesta queen and more. The demands from World War II caused construction delays due to shortages of labor and materials, but the entire canal was completed in 1948.

As the canal was being considered and planned, the Bay Barrier Association drew up plans for the formation of the Contra Costa County Water District, a legal entity to contract, purchase, and distribute water provided by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The District’s formation was overwhelmingly approved by voters (8932-1068) on May 5, 1936, and just four days later the Contra Costa County Water District was incorporated as a special district on May 9, 1936.

Commentary: The Contra Costa Water District has been one of the technology leaders among California water utilities. Their early research on control of trihalomethanes has been recognized as groundbreaking. Their far-sighted water resources planning has been a model for other utilities.

April 25, 2014: Switch to Flint River Water Supply; 1926: New York Harbor a Menace

April 25, 2014: Switch to Flint River Water Supply, Flint, MI. An article published online memorialized the change earlier that day from treated water from Detroit, Michigan, to the raw water supply of the Flint River and the activation of the Flint Water Plant. The photo from that article reproduced above shows local and state officials toasting each other with water from the Flint plant. I am certain that most of them would be happy to have their images removed from that and similar photographs.

About a month after the change, residents of Flint began to complain about discolored water and odors from the new water supply. The water coming out of city taps was orange, red, yellow and brown. City and State officials tried to assure Flint citizens that the water was safe to drink even after repeated failures of primary drinking water regulations: Total Coliform Rule and the trihalomethane regulation. But the worst was yet to come.

Once the water from the Flint River was demonstrated to be more corrosive to iron and steel than water from Detroit, someone in the water department, treatment plant staff, City administration or Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ, drinking water regulatory agency) should have asked the question, “What about corrosion of the 15,000 lead service lines serving water to homes in the City?”

Some stories about what happened in Flint state that the USEPA asked MDEQ if optimized treatment was being applied to prevent corrosion of lead service lines (LSLs). The MDEQ representative assured the USEPA that everything was just fine.

What we now know is that the treated Flint River water was highly corrosive to lead and levels greater than 10,000 ug/L have been found in some home samples. Hundreds of samples have been found to contain lead above the 15 ug/L State and federal action level. Young children who are most susceptible to the toxic effects of lead were exposed at high concentrations, which ultimately showed up as elevated blood lead levels in thousands of children.

It took the persistence of one mother in town, a smart, courageous doctor and an activist engineering professor to blow the whistle and get everyone to start paying attention to a public health emergency. Citizens of Flint owe a great deal to LeeAnne Walters, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards. Miguel Del Toral of the USEPA did everything that he could to ring alarm bells once he understood what was happening. Later reporting by Rachel Maddow of MSNBC brought the crisis to national attention and helped start a national discussion of the solutions needed.

Extremely high lead levels are being reported in some Flint homes many months after the shift back to Detroit water with phosphate treatment. Why is that happening? The interior surfaces of lead pipe in the Flint service area have been badly disrupted and phosphate treatment is not fixing the problem. Flint citizens should also be highly suspicious of lead results from first flush samples, which are mandated by the Lead and Copper Rule. Research has now shown that spikes of extremely high lead concentrations do not occur until more water is flushed through the system and the water that has been stagnating in lead pipes overnight is sampled and analyzed.

Here are a few questions with my best efforts to answer them.

Where did the LSLs in Flint come from and why were they installed? I found an 1897 City of Flint Ordinance that required the use of lead pipe to connect water mains to homes. I have found dozens and there must be hundreds of ordinances for other cities like this in the literature. Lead was the preferred material because other materials such as iron and steel pipes corroded away. Ironically, lead was considered a more durable material for service lines. Copper and plastic pipes were not commercially available until much later.

Why do local officials claim that water is safe to drink when it looks like orange Kool-Aid, smells like rotten eggs and tastes like sucking on a rusty nail? I have seen statements like this from city and water utility officials across the U.S. They should know by now that stating something that is clearly false to the people experiencing the delivery of bad water destroys the utility’s credibility and makes everyone angry. The only possible response is: “The water is disgusting, and even though it meets all health standards, it does not meet our standards. We are sorry. We are going to find out why this is happening and we are going to fix it.”

How in the world could this have happened? Who is responsible? Governor Rick Snyder likes to say that it happened because of a failure of government at all levels. For once, I agree with him. However, it appears to me that he says this as a way to dilute the responsibility of his administration, his state-appointed emergency manager and the state regulatory agency, the MDEQ. If the state agencies had been focused on protecting public health and not saving a few dollars, the lead poisoning disaster in Flint would never have happened. But City officials, water department personnel and the consultant who made recommendations for treatment plant upgrades also deserve some of the blame. If one person or a group of these people had stood up and raised holy hell and demanded corrosion testing of the new water supply, the crisis would have been avoided. There are lessons to learn from this disaster for everyone who is involved in serving drinking water in this country.

What about LSLs? Should they be replaced? Yes. NOW. A big mistake was made in 1991 with the adoption of the Lead and Copper Rule that did not require the replacement of all LSLs in the U.S. Also, the allowance of partial replacement of LSLs made lead exposure of the public far worse. Everyone involved in drinking water and public health should demand that the federal Lead and Copper Rule Long-Term Revisions include an accelerated schedule for replacing LSLs. Also, we should not get confused about who foots the bill. Society made the decision in the 19th and 20th centuries to use lead pipe. The homeowners and utility personnel who installed lead pipes are long dead. The total cost for LSL replacement should be paid for by utilities (with cost recovery from increased water rates) with some help from state and federal governments to seed the process and get it done. Society caused the problem and it is up to all of us to fix it. There are 6.1 million LSLs in this country and they need to be ripped out and completely replaced without delay.


Adams, D. 2014. Closing the Valve on History: Flint Cuts Water Flow From Detroit after nearly 50 years. Michigan Live. (http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2014/04/closing_the_valve_on_history_f.html Accessed April 24, 2016).

Cornwell, D.A., R.A. Brown and S.H. Via. 2016. National Survey of LSL Occurrence. Jour. AWWA. April. http://dx.doi.org/10.5942/jawwa.2016.108.0086

McGuire, M.J. 2016. Flint, Michigan: Lessons to Live By. Keynote address presented at the California Nevada Section Spring Conference, Sacramento, California. March 22.

Ordinances of the City of Flint, Michegan. Rules of the Common Council. 1897. page 142-3. (http://bit.ly/1UEq1BG Accessed March 21, 2016).

Update: In 2017, Flint was allocated about $100 million of public money to replace their lead service lines. Society has solved one city’s problem but there are many more cities that need a total replacement of their LSLs.

April 25, 1926: New York Times headline—Harbor Sewage Called a Menace to Health. “State Legislature Urged to Take Action to Halt Pollution of New York Waters — Many Cities Pour Their Raw Waste Into the Bay. A report just submitted to the Legislature of New York urges drastic action to protect the City of New York against the menace to health arising from the pollution of the harbor and near-by bathing beaches, not only by New York but by other cities and States. Dr. George W. Soper who was Director of the Metropolitan Sewerage Commission stated that every day, 940 million gallons of sewage per day were poured into the harbor every day. He called the situation a ‘direct offense upon the sense of decency…a constant menace to health.’”

January 7, 1914: First Transit of Panama Canal; 1832: Richmond Filter; 2011: Fluoride Exposure

SS Ancon first official transit of the Panama Canal in 1914.  The Alexandre La Valley was an old French crane boat that made the first unofficial transit on 1/7/1914.

SS Ancon first official transit of the Panama Canal in 1914. The Alexandre La Valley was an old French crane boat that made the first unofficial transit on 1/7/1914.

January 7, 1914:On January 7, 1914 the Alexandre La Valley became the first ship to make a complete transit of the Panama Canal. The Canal is about 50 miles long and uses a system of locks to transport ships through. The locks are 110 feet wide and 1,000 feet long. Between 13,000 and 14,000 vessels use the canal each year, accounting for about 5% of the world trade….The number of ships able to be processed through is limited by the space available. Larger ships are being built and the locks are limited by size. These forces combined are leading to the Panama Canal Expansion Project. Work began on a new set of locks in 2007 and is expected to be completed by 2014.”

Commentary: The water history connection is that the filling of the locks is accomplished by draining water from Gatun Lake that is fed by precipitation in the Panamanian rain forest. Over 26 million gallons of fresh water is lost to the ocean during each downward lock cycle. The new canal system of locks will recycle about 60 percent of the water so there will be less pressure on the local water resources. A terrific blog posted on October 21, 2012, entitled “Panama Canal Update : Why Water is still King” gave a lot of details on the water resources angle of the new canal. I recommend it.

0126 Moses N BakerJanuary 7, 1832: Completion of the first attempt to filter a public water supply in the U.S. Filtration was begun in Richmond, VA. The slow sand filters operated in an “upflow” mode and consisted of layers of sand and gravel. The design engineer was Albert Stein who built a downflow filter after the upflow version failed. Despite the problems, Moses N. Baker declared the Richmond filtration efforts the start of filtration of public water supplies in the U.S.

Reference: Baker, Moses N. 1981. The Quest for Pure Water: the History of Water Purification from the Earliest Records to the Twentieth Century. 2nd Edition. Vol. 1. Denver, Co.: American Water Works Association, 125-9.

1202 USEPAJanuary 7, 2011: To prevent overexposure to fluoride, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced proposed changes in the recommended level of fluoride in drinking water. The HHS proposed recommendation of 0.7 parts per million (ppm) of fluoride in drinking water replaced the current recommended range of 0.7 to 1.2 ppm.

#TDIWH—January 5, 2015: History of Raleigh’s Water; 2006: Long Term 2 ESWTR

0105 EB-Bain-Plant_State-ArchivesJanuary 5, 2015: Article published on the History of Raleigh’s Water. “Raleigh’s first go at creating water infrastructure was in the early 1800s when only about 1,000 residents called the city home. In 1818 the city built a water wheel in the Rocky Branch creek, which pumped water through wooden pipes to a water tower.

“Think barrels,” wrote Huler in a follow-up email. “Staves held together by wire, wound around almost like a spring.”

Unfortunately, Raleigh’s first try at a citywide system was, to put it bluntly, a total disaster. The mud and silt that accompanied the water caused the pipes to burst and within a few years the city returned to wells and pumps.

0105 Water-Resevoir_state-archives-771x612In the mid 1880s, with the population at a booming 10,000 people, Raleigh decided to give it another try. In 1886 the city built a real pump, just south of downtown, pulling water from Walnut Creek. The steam-powered water treatment plant filtered 2 million gallons per day sending the water to a reservoir and then to a 100,000-gallon water tower that still stands downtown.

By 1910 Raleigh had 55 miles of water mains running beneath the streets.”

Cryptosporidium parvum

Cryptosporidium parvum

January 5, 2006: Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule finalized by USEPA. “The purpose of the LT2 rule is to reduce illness linked with the contaminant Cryptosporidium and other disease-causing microorganisms in drinking water. The rule will supplement existing regulations by targeting additional Cryptosporidium treatment requirements to higher risk systems. This rule also contains provisions to reduce risks from uncovered finished water reservoirs and to ensure that systems maintain microbial protection when they take steps to decrease the formation of disinfection byproducts that result from chemical water treatment….The final rule is effective on March 6, 2006.”

Commentary: This regulation was a critical component of the Reg Neg and FACA negotiations that I participated in from 1992 to 2000. Utilities were given a number of years to develop compliance plans to meet this relatively complex drinking water regulation.

December 19, 2011: USEPA Water Headlines; 2011: Colorado River Supply

1202 USEPADecember 19, 2011: USEPA Water Headlines.

1) EPA Extends Comment Period for the Proposed CAFO Rule

On October 21, 2011, EPA published a proposed rule that would require concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) to submit basic operational information to the Agency. EPA received requests from the public for additional time to submit comments, and is extending the public comment period to January 19, 2012. EPA proposed the rule in order to more effectively carry out its CAFO permitting programs on a national level and ensure that CAFOs are implementing practices to protect water quality and human health.

For information on the proposed rule, visit http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/afo/aforule.cfm.

2) Success Spotlight: Fosdic Lake, Texas–Educating Residents and Collecting Household Hazardous Waste Items Reduces Pollutants in Fosdic Lake

EPA’s Clean Water Act Section 319 Program provides funding for restoration of nonpoint source-impaired water bodies. Success stories are posted at: http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/success319/. This week’s success spotlight shines on Fosdic Lake, Texas.

In 1995, the Texas Department of State Health Services banned the possession of fish taken from Fosdic Lake in Fort Worth because of high concentrations of potentially-harmful chemicals in fish tissue. As a result, Texas added Fosdic Lake to the state’s list of impaired waters. In 2000, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and EPA approved a total maximum daily load for Fosdic Lake to address pollutants in fish tissue. Local, state and federal agencies coordinated data collection and education and outreach efforts in the city of Fort Worth to reduce the inflow of harmful chemicals into area lakes. Recent monitoring shows that the pollutant levels in fish from Fosdic Lake have diminished sufficiently to allow for their safe consumption, prompting the state to lift the fish possession ban in 2007.

coloradobasinDecember 19, 2011. Circle of Blue. Federal Water Tap, December 19: Less Money, More Problems. Colorado River

The Bureau of Reclamation and several state water agencies are conducting a multi-year study of water supply and demand in the Colorado River Basin. According to projections, demand will exceed supply by nearly 25 percent by 2060. The bureau is canvassing the public for ideas about how to rebalance the curves.

December 16, 1974: Safe Drinking Water Act Signed into Law

1216 Safe Drinking Water Act signed into lawDecember 16, 1974: Safe Drinking Water Act signed into law by President Ford. “The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the principal federal law in the United States intended to ensure safe drinking water for the public. Pursuant to the act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set standards for drinking water quality and oversee all states, localities, and water suppliers who implement these standards.

SDWA applies to every public water system in the United States. There are currently more than 150,000 public water systems providing water to almost all Americans at some time in their lives. These water systems must be analyzed by third-party analytical laboratories. The Act does not cover private wells [or bottled water].”

To ensure that drinking water is safe, SDWA sets up multiple barriers against pollution. These barriers include: source water protection, treatment, distribution system integrity, and public information. Public water systems are responsible for ensuring that contaminants in tap water do not exceed the standards. Water systems treat the water, and must test their water frequently for specified contaminants and report the results to states. If a water system is not meeting these standards, it is the water supplier’s responsibility to notify its customers. Many water suppliers now are also required to prepare annual reports for their customers. The public is responsible for helping local water suppliers to set priorities, make decisions on funding and system improvements, and establish programs to protect drinking water sources. Water systems across the nation rely on citizen advisory committees, rate boards, volunteers, and civic leaders to actively protect this resource in every community in America.”

December 2, 1970: USEPA Starts Operations

1202 USEPADecember 2, 1970: The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA or sometimes USEPA) is an agency of the U.S. federal government which was created for the purpose of protecting human health and the environment by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress. The EPA was proposed by President Richard Nixon and began operation on December 2, 1970, after Nixon signed an executive order. The order establishing the EPA was ratified by committee hearings in the House and Senate. The agency is led by its Administrator, who is appointed by the president and approved by Congress. The current administrator is Gina McCarthy. The EPA is not a Cabinet department, but the administrator is normally given cabinet rank.

The EPA has its headquarters in Washington, D.C., regional offices for each of the agency’s ten regions, and 27 laboratories. The agency conducts environmental assessment, research, and education. It has the responsibility of maintaining and enforcing national standards under a variety of environmental laws, in consultation with state, tribal, and local governments. It delegates some permitting, monitoring, and enforcement responsibility to U.S. states and Native American tribes. EPA enforcement powers include fines, sanctions, and other measures. The agency also works with industries and all levels of government in a wide variety of voluntary pollution prevention programs and energy conservation efforts.

The agency has approximately 17,000 full-time employees. and engages many more people on a contractual basis. More than half of EPA human resources are engineers, scientists, and environmental protection specialists; other groups include legal, public affairs, financial, and information technologists.