By Greg Reyneke, CWS-VI
Country-living is wonderful: open spaces, wildlife, beautiful landscapes and freedom from the shackles of city life. With that freedom comes responsibility. Since there is no municipal water supply available, homeowners become their own water utility, responsible for water supply and quality. Most rural water users will either draw water from a surface supply, sub-surface supply or an alternative technique like snow/rainwater harvest. Contrary to popular belief, however, water in the country usually isn’t any cleaner, fresher or better than city water.
On its way from the clouds to the faucet, rainwater dissolves and absorbs a part of almost everything it touches. The falling rain cleans the air as it falls. The impurities that were removed from the air have not left; they have just been relocated through the water onto the ground. Gases and other contaminants can cause undesirable tastes, colors and odors. Rain falls onto the ground, collecting sediments like rust, sand and algae. The water eventually finds its way to a surface water collection point like a lake or stream, and some percolates downward and collects in an aquifer. As it percolates through the earth, the water can absorb hardness minerals, iron, heavy metals, radioactivity, gases, organic contaminants and many other complex elements and compounds. Precipitation falls upon commercial and municipal dumpsites, toxic waste sites, industrial refuse depots, military test sites, leach fields, mining operations, farmer’s fields etc., where it dissolves minute amounts of the toxic chemicals present and carries them along. These synthetic chemicals are generally odorless, colorless and tasteless, and can often be life-threatening. Our never-ending quest for cheap energy has further complicated matters, and many wells and surface-water supplies are now being impacted in quality and quantity by hydraulic fracturing and other petrochemical resource exploitation activities. The statement: “My parents drank this water for 75 years and it never hurt them” is no longer a valid excuse not to be concerned with water quality.
What do you want your water to do for you?
Before homeowners can consider treating water, it is a good idea to determine what they actually want it to do so the consumer and local water specialist can choose the best technology that will balance cost, performance, maintenance and equipment longevity for the application. Is the consumer addressing a known issue like hardness scale, staining or undesirable tastes and odors? Observing the effect of water on toilet tanks, drains, shower stalls, watering troughs, etc. is important; if the water looks, smells or tastes funny, there has to be a reason. Test for compliance with US EPA’s primary drinking water standards is necessary. This is a good baseline test that will alert the consumer to the presence of potentially harmful contaminants. If the water is unsafe in areas such as bacteria, arsenic, nitrates, etc., a treatment system is mandatory. Once the water is known to be safe, the most common contaminants to test for are the following, which have significant effect on the water’s aesthetic characteristics, as well as its impact on energy use and the longevity of appliances, faucets and fixtures in contact with water:
- Total hardness
- Total alkalinity
Choosing a water quality management partner
Caveat emptor (Let the buyer beware). This principle applies as much today as it did in ancient Rome. Managing water quality affects the health and safety of everyone who will be working with, playing in or consuming it. It is wise for homeowners to consult with a qualified water quality improvement expert before choosing the technologies to be used to manage their water. When choosing a local expert, consumers should consult with the local and national Water Quality Association, check for proper licensing and, of course, ask for referrals!
Choosing the appropriate technologies
A local water specialist will be familiar with what works in a given area. Consumers shouldn’t be afraid to explore more advanced technologies like ultrafiltration, nanofiltration, electrodeionization and advanced oxidative processes. The following data should be gathered to assist in selecting and sizing the appropriate system:
- Water source
- Pressure delivery range
- Well/water source capacity (maximum amount of water usage that it can sustain in 24 hours)
- Peak water flowrate available to the water treatment system
- Drainage facilities
- Pipe size and material of influent water supply
- Peak flow demand of the facility being treated
- Space available for the system
- Electrical power required by the system
- Dimensions of doorways and other entry-ways
- Daily water consumption habits
What consumables and maintenance are required?
Water treatment systems capture, change or destroy contaminants in water. This action requires an input of electricity, chemistry and/or labor to maintain performance. The consumables required for the specific process need to be discussed. All water treatment systems require periodic maintenance; it is naive to believe or claim otherwise. Plans should be made for cleaning and disinfecting each component in the system at least once a year to ensure peak performance levels.
Installation should be performed according to industry best-practices and in compliance with prevailing local codes and ordinances. A smart installer will lay out the equipment to ensure it is easy to maintain and operate without being unnecessarily intrusive. An important consideration in rural installations is temperature control—water treatment systems work best at temperatures that human beings are comfortable in. Equipment should not be installed where it will be exposed to freezing or excessively hot temperatures.
Being one’s own utility requires one to think like a utility. What will happen to the fancy treatment system if power is lost? Will the consumer be stranded without water when a nickel part breaks in the middle of winter and the nearest replacement is across the country? Consider the following:
- All equipment should have an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with battery backup to allow operation for at least six hours during a power outage.
- A six-to-12-month supply of consumables should be kept on hand and replenished before they run out.
- Replacement parts should be kept on hand, especially for proprietary and high-wear components.
- What are the consequences of failure? A softener that breaks down is completely different from an arsenic-control system that fails.
Owning and operating a water utility can be rewarding and satisfying, if you do it right.
About the author
Greg Reyneke, CWS-VI, is currently General Manager at Intermountain Soft Water in Lindon, UT and serves on the WC&P Technical Review Committee. He also serves on the advisory board of the Smart Dealer Network, a trade association dedicated to helping independent water treatment dealers succeed in today’s changing world and reach their full potential.