Over the past several months the Water Utility has received a number of calls from customers in La Crosse who were contacted by a company called Crystal Canyon with the offer to visit and perform water sampling at their home. This company is in no way affiliated with the La Crosse Water Utility. However, because of a customer’s concerns, the Water Utility manager was invited to anonymously attend and observe the company’s presentation. The following are some major items included in the company’s presentation and additional information of interest to our customers.
The company representative will probably measure water hardness and check to see if the property has a water softener.
What You Should Know: Because of the geology in this area, La Crosse has hard water. Depending on where you live, hardness in the La Crosse water system can range between 148 -340 parts per million (ppm), based on 2008 sampling data. Hard water is not harmful but it can result in build-up of scale in pipes and on fixtures, as well as scale deposit and accumulation in water heaters. Some homes choose to operate water softening systems to avoid these problems. Many people prefer the taste of hard water for drinking.
Total Dissolved Solids (TDS)
The company representative may use an electronic meter to measure the TDS in an un-softened sample of the water in the home and then compare this to the TDS level of a water sample he or she brings with them. The TDS of the City water will be a number higher than the hardness and the representative may state that high total dissolved solids, or specific elements in TDS, are harmful.
What You Should Know:Similar to hardness, TDS concentration in water is largely related to local geology, so typical TDS in City water is also high. TDS is not regulated but there is a secondary standard of 500 ppm, based mostly on aesthetic criteria. In La Crosse, the elements that make up water hardness represent a large percentage of TDS concentration. For example, sampling conducted at City wells in 2008 showed an average water hardness concentration of 280 ppm, as compared to an average TDS level of 407 ppm. Other inorganic components in the water account for additional solids that make up the TDS total concentration. Several of these “other” components are separately regulated under state and federal water quality standards. All TDS components that were detected in 2008 samples were well within EPA maximum contaminant levels (MCL). Example: Arsenic is an inorganic contaminant included in TDS that was detected during 2008 sampling. The average arsenic level in City water is 0.6 parts per billion (ppb), as compared to the regulated MCL of 10 ppb. Please refer to the Water Quality Table in the 2008 Water Quality Report for information on other regulated, inorganic components included as part of total dissolved solids.
Fluoride in City Water
The company representative will likely stress the fact that the Water Utility adds fluoride to the City’s water supply, and that there are reports and information describing concerns with fluoride in drinking water.
What You Should Know: Fluoride has been added to the La Crosse water supply since 1988, following a public referendum in favor of this action. Fluoride is added at all wells at a constant rate of 1 ppm. The maximum dosage level allowed under current state code is 4 ppm. The American Dental Association and the Center for Disease Control are among the groups that support fluoridation in municipal water supplies. Some people make a personal choice to remove fluoride from their drinking water using a home treatment system.
Chlorine in City Water
The company representative will probably emphasize the fact that the Water Utility also adds chlorine to the City’s water supply, and may discuss concerns with this chemical.
What You Should Know: The majority of municipal water systems add a disinfectant to their drinking water supplies. Chlorine solution is added at all wells, usually at a dosage rate between 1 to 1.3 ppm. As provided under current state code, chlorine disinfection systems are designed to provide a maximum dosage level of 2 ppm. Chlorination is not required to disinfect water as it is pumped from wells. Its main purpose is to provide protection from contamination that can result when the water piping system is shut-down for maintenance (repair leaks, replace valves & services, etc.). At any location in the City’s water system, there is usually a chlorine residual concentration ranging between 0.2 to 1.0 ppm. Some people are sensitive to chlorine smell and taste in water and choose to use a home treatment system to remove it. For drinking purposes, a hint we frequently give customers is to simply leave an open pitcher or container of tap water sit in the refrigerator for a while and the chlorine will come out of the water naturally.
Related to chlorination of water systems is the subject of disinfection byproducts (DBP), which the company representative may also mention. DBP can occur in water distribution systems, typically where the water is the “oldest’, meaning it’s been in the piping system the longest. Disinfection byproducts include Total Trihalomethanes (TTHM) and Haloacetic Acid (HAA5). Sampling, monitoring and reporting of DBP is part of the Water Utility’s annual requirements, as prescribed by the DNR. The Water Quality Report includes TTHM and HAA5 sampling results for the current year, and shows that La Crosse’s water is well within regulatory limits. Also, as an annual, scheduled maintenance activity, all dead-end sections of pipe (areas where water age may be longest) in the water distribution system are flushed in the spring as part of the overall flushing program, then flushed at least twice more over the course of the summer and fall.
Reporting Water Quality Information to the Public
At the presentation attended by the Water Utility Manager, the company representative implied that the City would not notify the public if there was a problem with the water system. The presenter was also unaware that the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) regulates and oversees drinking water systems in Wisconsin.
What You Should Know: The La Crosse Water Utility is heavily regulated under state (DNR) and federal (EPA) codes. The Utility must comply with water quality sampling, testing and reporting protocols as dictated annually by the DNR. All water quality data for the La Crosse Water Utility is available to the public on the DNR website, as follows:
Since 1998, there has been a United States EPA mandate that requires water utilities to produce and distribute an annual consumer confidence report to provide information to customers on the quality of their drinking water. The annual La Crosse Water Quality Report summarizes and presents all current sampling data and is mailed directly to water consumers served by the La Crosse water system. The Water Utility makes every effort to provide its customers with information to describe water quality in La Crosse. Customers are also encouraged to contact the Water Utility directly via telephone or email if they have other questions or need additional information.
As would be expected, there is endless information on water quality and related issues available on the internet. Any subject of interest can usually be researched in any search engine (e.g., Google) with multiple results. For example, a water consumer can get more information on “dissolved solids in drinking water” by simply searching for that subject.