A great research paper topic is "the importance of drinking water" and how this is becoming a more precious commodity. Samuel Taylor Coleridge once wrote, "water, water, every where nor any drop to drink"; a quote that is quite appropriately applied when looking at much of the world's vast waterscape. Between the numerous river basins, streams, coastal waters and ocean water, many communities are surrounded by water that is not potable. With this being the case, where does the world get most of its drinking water? And perhaps more importantly, how clean is it? What a great environmental research paper topic!
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that the majority of drinking water in the United States today comes from one of two sources: surface water and ground water. Reporting, "large-scale water supply systems tend to rely on surface water resources, and smaller water systems tend to use ground water," surface water includes, lakes, rivers and reservoirs while ground water is pumped from wells that are drilled into aquifers (geologic formations that naturally contain water). Estimating that approximately 23 million Americans use ground water as a private drinking source, the EPA notes that this figure accounts for slightly more than half of the population.
The nation has more than 54,000 community water supply systems consisting of the following components:
- Collection mechanisms
- Water treatment plants
- Wells and well pumps
- Water storage structures
- Water distribution systems (pipes, mains, lines)
- Dispensing apparatus
These community based water supply systems provide America with over 90% of its drinking water and water for daily use. Additionally, of these 54,000 community water supply systems, just over 3,000 provide in excess of 70% of the American population with its daily water needs. A considerable percentage of this system, if not the vast majority, remains out of sight and out of mind of the average consumer. However, much of this infrastructure is aging since many of the water mains and pipes were originally installed during the 1800s and are still in common use. In larger cities older than 100 years, the primary water mains are still the same cast iron mains installed a century ago. These cast iron mains and the cast iron pipes extending from them have a life expectancy of 100-125 years and this life-expectancy has been met or exceeded in many instances. The resulting condition of these cast iron mains and pipes is a rapidly increasing corrosion that becomes apparent in a waste of water resources due to general leakage and acute bursting loss. The figures agreed upon by most constituencies is that in most older systems the average loss of water resources due to inefficiency is 30-50% on a daily basis. Cities such as Boston, Detroit, and Philadelphia regularly expend valuable resources, detecting, repairing, and preventing water leakage issues that result in high costs to consumers, loss of water pressure, and periodic water rationing measures. New York, with over 6,000 miles of water mains suffers in excess of 500 major breaks annually. It is apparent that with so many water supply systems still relying on antiquated systems and equipment, that security and safety issues are not the only priorities for parties with vested interests in seeking IT solutions to ongoing concerns of both safety and integrity. Some IT solutions that cities, municipalities, and states are employing are: software applications that collect and analyze key data involving water usage rates, spike usage periods, and life cycle analysis of system components, as well as IT solutions that measure water quality and monitor for corrosion
Research on the Integrity of America's Drinking Water System
The integrity of America's national water supply was a topic of national interest long before the risk of invasive terrorist acts became a real threat. Issues such as water safety, water supply and infrastructure, and water use strategies were traditionally the relevant issues vis-à-vis America's water supply. While these issues are still relevant, if not more relevant, they have only become more complex in nature. In order to adequately address these traditional water supply issues and to appropriately secure the integrity of the water supply from terrorist threats, many local, state, and federal bodies have turned to information and technology (IT) applications to solve some of these complex scenarios. These IT applications run the gamut from extensive use of software application technology to simple security procedures and equipment. Additionally, the deployment of IT applications includes a more effective strategy to dispense with and mediate information itself regarding water supply integrity and safety. Raw information-centric activities have led the way in disaster prevention strategies regarding water-supply security: "Background checks on new employees have become common, as have intensive employee training, security audits, assessments, and emergency response and communications plans. A nationwide information-sharing system has been developed". Considering the magnitude of the potential threat facing the integrity of America's water supplies and critical infrastructure, the role of IT in establishing and maintaining security cannot be examined out of context. It is important to examine the role of IT solutions within the context of the water supply network and its organizational fabric to better understand IT's functional application in protecting America's water supplies.
The federal government passed several acts following 9/11 meant to prepare for and prevent such threats to the infrastructure and integrity of America's water supply. These consist of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act (Bioterrorism Act) as well as other smaller provisions that mandate certain actions on the part of any municipality serving more than 3,300 individuals (Security, 2003). The Bioterrorism Act mandated the following actions on the part of water supply systems serving more than 3,300 people:
- Conduct a vulnerability assessment
- Certify to U.S. EPA that the vulnerability assessment was completed by a date specified in the law
- Submit a paper copy of the assessment to U.S. EPA
- Prepare or revise their emergency response plan on the basis of results from the vulnerability, assessment
- Certify to U.S. EPA that the emergency response plan has been developed or revised by a certain date...Six months after submission of the assessment, utilities are required to certify...that they have developed or revised an emergency response plan