Wednesday, June 29, 2022
June 29, 2022

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Energy Adviser: Utility tests water for chemicals, contaminates


John Roth, water quality manager at Clark Public Utilities, doesn’t mince words when he talks about the water utility’s responsibilities to their customers.

“We interact with our customers in a very intimate way — they consume our product by drinking it. That relationship is not lost on our operators,” he said.

That mindset drives a rigorous water testing and treatment regimen at Clark Public Utilities, beyond what regulators require. Clark Public Utilities pumps a daily average of 14.5 million gallons to more than 100,000 customers through about 38,000 connections in unincorporated Clark County as well as Yacolt, Amboy, Battle Ground, La Center and Ridgefield. But in its journey from the ground to the tap, the water has undergone a barrage of tests, filtration and treatment to ensure it is an outstanding product.

“We do a lot of testing,” Roth said. “That’s the biggest difference between us and private wells.” 

While Clark County is fortunate to have a clean groundwater supply, it does require some treatment — mainly for iron and manganese, which can affect taste and cause staining. Chlorine is also added as a barrier to ensure safe clean drinking water.

Utility employees frequently visit wells around the county to ensure chlorine levels are in their proper ranges and that pressure is adequate.

Delivering clean water to the homes, schools and businesses in our communities is a responsibility water utilities and state and federal regulators take very seriously. Public water systems must meet rigorous testing and quality standards to ensure customers have a product that is fit for consumption. Clark Public Utilities takes their water quality testing and controls far further than what regulators require.

The state requires water utilities to test their raw, untreated water quality just one time before setting up a treatment system, then regular testing after its treated. But Clark Public Utilities regularly tests its raw water supplies after they come out of the ground, in addition to regular post-treatment testing.

“The Washington State Department of Health has strict standards for water quality, but we strive to exceed those standards,” Roth said. “We test for several things beyond the state’s requirements, or began testing for compounds before it was required.”

For example, early this year the state set action levels for five different perfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS — the widely distributed so-called “forever chemicals” commonly found in products such as fire retardants and nonstick pans that are globally distributed, that are increasingly showing up in water supplies — but Clark Public Utilities first tested for those in 2015 under EPA testing but sampled again in February 2021 under new, more sensitive testing for methods and there were no detections of perfluoroalkyl compounds.

The utility also goes beyond the mandate by testing its raw water supplies for the presence of coliform bacteria, iron and manganese so it can be treated if necessary.

Like any consumable, water has a shelf life. If it sits in the system too long it can become stale and develop a strange taste or odor. The utility monitors for these conditions and, when necessary, will flush the system to clear out the unpleasant water.

Sarah Robinson, office manager in the Clark Public Utilities Water Utility, said utility customers can and should contact customer service at 360-992-3000 if their water tastes or smells off.

“Taste and smell around chlorine are the most common questions from customers, especially in the spring and summer,” she said. “If a customer feels the taste of our water is off or has a strong odor, we’ll go out and flush the system at our nearest hydrant or blow-off and then ask the customer to run a bathtub to flush it out of their lines.”

The utility annually publishes a water quality report. The 2021 report will be available in May on the utility’s website or as a physical copy.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.


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