By Ronald Y. Pérez, WC&P Managing Editor
After four years of tracking new water-related websites as well as redesigned ones, it’s time for this “Website of the Month” columnist to hang up the cursor for good. In that time, one can only imagine the oversized folders that carry potential websites for review. In fact, in my office, there are two such folders—one holds straightforward sites that pertain solely to the water industry in some form while the other is labeled as “WC&P – Wacky Sites,” which contains more opaque selections (re: beachfront property and other “water-like” activities) that rarely saw the light of day. So, in lieu of this, I thought it was high time to empty the kitchen cabinet and offer up a plethora of sites one last time.
We begin with an international site from the land of Big Ben. As is custom, I seek some background information on the creator, or at least the maintenance source, of the site. I scroll down to the bottom of the home page and spot an “About the author” button. It reads in part: “Hi my name is Phil Keel. I am studying for an enviromental (sic) sciences degree in the UK and I have been looking into the effects of hard water for a long time. We have a hard water problem at our home and I wanted to find the best solution to our problems but after searching the net at great length I didn’t find much useful information.” Hmmm, perhaps Mr. Keel is unaware of the “Website of the Month” column.
He goes on to say that the site is a collaboration with an associate who heads up www.hardwater.org (why not give it a plug?). Visitors may also notice that Keel and associate “promote” www.givewater.org, a complementary site for those who want to “make a difference to people who are having similar problems to them but who can’t afford to fix them.”
Enough about that as there are plenty of main buttons to cover. The self-professed goal for the site is to “compile the magnitude of water treatment information available on the Internet into a single, concise resource.” On the home page, water conditioners are described as an effective and low-cost solution to many hard water problems. Under “Useful Links,” visitors can click on a link and Thames Water (the rough equivalent of AWWA in the UK) will donate 2.5 pence to WaterAid—a nice, altruistic gesture. (Note to new editor: WaterAid is a good candidate for a future review.)
Further down the home page, we come across what qualifies for the main buttons. They are broken down in three separate groups—common water problems, home water treatment systems, and other. Each group has four or five sub-categories. We will hit the more relevant ones here. Well Water discusses water acidity, high iron content, and disease-causing bacteria, viruses or protozoa. For the cures, i.e., calcite filter, chlorination, distillers, each one contains a link for a more descriptive explanation.
Another common water problem, drinking water, is divided into problem, effect on water and suggested treatment. Problems range from pH and foaming agents to MTBE and sulfate. What, no arsenic? In brief, home water treatment systems highlighted are water filters, reverse osmosis, water softeners, water conditioners and water treatment chemicals. Scan “Other” for the site’s water treatment comparison and water facts. The former provides reasonable advantages and disadvantages for each piece of equipment and the latter lists some little know things about water’s properties.
This site has been sitting in one of the aforementioned folders for sometime now. Better late then never, I thought this would be a good time to dust it off and give it a thorough inspection. As you can guess, this site is dedicated to water treatment standards and is a joint venture of the American Public Health Association, American Water Works Association (AWWA) and Water Environment Federation.
Low on graphics but clean in presentation, the home page is concise and informs visitors that this reference covers all aspects of water and wastewater analysis. The main buttons run vertically down the home page’s left sidebar. They are Standard Methods Online, Subscribe to Standard Methods Online, Standard Methods News, Discussion Forum, Subscribe to Standard Methods eNewsletter, and Links. With the name in the URL, I don’t believe they needed to mention the same two words in its main menu, but it’s a small inconvenience to endure.
Standard Methods Online allows visitors to search for particular methods by name or a more general way of viewing all products, subscriptions or methods. For beginners, I type in “radon” and I am given two products, one for radon and another for radium. Moreover, I can see the status of each standard (EPA approved, revised, or new). As I quickly see, if you want the complete report, there is a fee. For instance, the 7500-Rn report is $69. Nevertheless, it’s a good tool as far as the status for each method is provided.
Meanwhile, Subscribe to Standard Methods Online provides “the analyst a powerful online tool and access to a community of over 500 world class experts using the discussion group feature.” Subscriptions are for one and two-year terms and notify members, via email, of report developments and their status. Another feature is that subscribers are allowed to join online discussions with other analysts. This, I am sure, saves on long distance phone calls to Germany.
As the name implies, Standard Methods News is a news section for the site. It also delves into the editorial board and a slew of other nice-to-know components such as joint task groups, meeting calendar, and an email address for feedback comments courtesy of the AWWA. The meetings calendar, not surprisingly, is relegated to the three associations mentioned above (with links to their own websites). Discussion Forum, as described before, gives the benefits of becoming a subscriber this way: “Subscribers are able to exchange ideas, share experiences, and offer solutions to everyday workplace issues.” Assuming you’re not prepared to make that kind of commitment right now, Subscribe to Standard Methods eNewsletter offers a free alternative to some of the same types of regulatory updates. Newsletter recipients will get information on regulatory issues, tips on conducting test procedures, and answers to some of the inquiries submitted. Finally, Links lends 11 names in the water/wastewater industry for your website perusal. Some of the more visible names are Index to UESPA Test Methods, American Chemical Society and National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.
For a couple years now, the WC&P offices have received the On Tap quarterly journal. It’s quite informative as it traces the issues faced by many small communities and their drinking water quality. The publication is supported by the National Drinking Water Clearinghouse (NDWC), the purveyors of this site and based out of the West Virginia University campus.
Main buttons are located on the right side of the basic and easy-functioning home page. They are, from top to bottom, categorized under six headings: “About,” “News,” “Read NDWC,” “Services,” “Water Talk” and “Freelance Writer.” Under “About” (a strange location and usually found near the bottom on most other sites), NDWC outlines its mission: “Intended for communities with fewer than 10,000 residents and the organizations who work with them, the NDWC helps small communities by providing needed technical assistance and information.” FAQ discusses much more about the NDWC than what questions consumers or operators may have about their water. Still, a link allows other organizations to add their link to this site.
Located in the next set of buttons, News isn’t necessarily a timely itemized series of releases but rather a listing of articles and reports ranging from drinking water, well water and water conservation. Links make this process easy to follow. This may not be a true “news” section but it serves a useful purpose. Drinking Water History is a very brief sketch of selected On Tap issues and their water focus. For those wanting more news, Past News is similar to an archive, but there is no time frame reference listed here, which makes it hard to follow. Speaking of which, Archives (under “Read NDWC”) makes finding articles in past NDWC newsletters a snap by utilizing a search function.
Next, “Services” contains a couple of buttons of note. Resources allows visitors to order publications or products via a toll-free number or email. The most recent ones are labeled as “new” in a most visible way. The site may think about doing this with the news buttons as well. With the recent attention given to terrorist threats, we would be remiss to overlook Security, an involved page that helps operators and other concerned observers with sources of information. Operators is obviously for drinking water operators and touches on news items as well as reports and technical training tools on CD. Again, this site makes adding your own link very easy, and contains so many that they are broken down in categories such as federal and state programs, national organizations, and industry & private groups. It’s clearly one of the better link lists I have seen. Unlike the other site, NDWC’s discussion (see “Water Talk”) is free of charge but with limited topics, all six of them. Considering the recent entry dates, I would say there’s an active group repartee.
As we make way for a new columnist, I would like to express my thanks to those of you who took the time to express your feelings about the column as well as certain sites (yes, many of them were your own sites, and the feedback was always respectable). My comments were from the heart so I hope nothing was taken as a personal affront. Many of the sites reviewed here in the past could have garnered a review all to themselves, but we decided a couple of years ago that it would be best to include as many sites as possible per issue. The more, the merrier, you might say. I leave you with this: My only hope is that the next columnist has half as much fun as I did with the opportunity.
Where the standard rating is academic
Presuming administrator Keel is still a student, this site would make a serviceable master’s thesis. Part of it is very altruistic (WaterAid and the other sites mentioned) while part of it goes into comparison/contrast. Yes, much of the site reads like a continuous Q&A session, but this shouldn’t take away from a class presentation.
If you are hardcore about the development of standards and want to stay up-to-date, this site is worth the costs. I was really impressed with its status listing for each standard. The e-newsletter is a workable consolation prize, and makes up for the emphasis placed on certain industry events. Its simplicity with the search button is its strongest point.
With so many main buttons, it’s bound to be hit or miss. Fortunately for web surfers like us, it’s mostly “hit.” With a few more minor tweaks and perhaps some reorganization in the main button listings, this site would be a five-star extravaganza. Bonus: A special section is devoted to teachers for classrooms. And On Tap is free when you subscribe!