Water is essential for health and wellbeing, therefore public confidence in drinking water quality is vital. The western world is subject to stringent and robust standards, regulated by independent inspectors, so why is there growing distrust in the safety of tap water, resulting in the increased use of bottled water across the globe? ATi discusses the foundations of this problem and the smart solution that will restore public confidence, increase water quality optimisation and reduce the environmental impact.
The latest reports from UK regulators state that more than 99% of tests on drinking water met or exceeded required standards. Yet, despite these positive statistics, there is a lack of confidence in tap water quality, due to the perceived risks associated with poorly maintained and failing water infrastructures. This has resulted in a rapidly growing number of people turning to bottled water.
Plastic bottled water can cost up to 10,000 times more to produce than tap water and takes three times as much water to produce than it can actually hold, yet the vast majority of the time the contents are exactly the same as that from the tap – it is simply marketed differently due to its commercial value. Marketing campaigns have sowed seeds of doubt about tap water quality and cultivated the image that bottled water is safer. However, financial costs are not the only downside of drinking bottled water. In the US alone, plastic bottle manufacturing takes 1.5 million barrels of oil every year – more than it would take to power 100,000 homes. This is without other externalities including fuel, emissions, landfill and litter, which are all catastrophic to our environment.
Fortunately, there is a simple solution to combat this widespread mistrust of tap water and encourage people to go Back 2 Tap, using digital technology to continuously monitor and safeguard water quality throughout the distribution system – not just within the treatment process. Currently, water companies invest a considerable amount of time and resource to ensure the water leaving the process is safe; but it is the delivery from here to the tap that creates the most concern due to lack of continuous monitoring. During this journey, the taste, odour and appearance of the water can change vastly and, in many cases, results in the complete loss of disinfection. It is inconceivable to imagine utilities delivering even one litre of potable water without it being tested throughout the treatment process with dual or even triple validation monitoring. So why then do we assume it stays potable all the way to the tap? Despite chlorination virtually eliminating typhoid, cholera and other diseases in the western world, inadequate monitoring within the network will not only lead to a decline in confidence, but could potentially result in more frequent water-borne diseases re-emerging. So what critical changes to operational strategies can be implemented to safeguard and futureproof water quality?
Grab Sampling vs Continuous Monitoring
Despite the development of 21st century technology, there are still a few water companies that employ outdated 1950s paradigms to test the water, manually collecting weekly samples and returning them to laboratories where chemicals are applied for analysis. However, these results take around three days and only offer a snapshot in time, therefore too late to prevent any compromised water reaching the customer. In addition, the reagents used are harmful to the environment. Alternatively, proactive water companies deploy a neural network of digital smart sensors at critical locations throughout the water distribution system, offering continuous, real-time assurances and evidence-based proof that the water is safe.
When factoring in externalities, these field-proven systems, such as ATi’s smart water quality MetriNet solution, are around half the cost of grab sampling on whole life cost and create real-time awareness of water quality throughout the network. By using actionable insights, MetriNet ensures the efficient delivery of high-quality water in an environmentally friendly way.
Futureproofing Tap Water Confidence
Many forward-thinking water companies are now building futureproof water quality strategies utilising MetriNet, enabling a shift from outdated, reactive practices, to proactive solutions based on real-time data. With continuous measurement, a choice of up to 16 water quality parameters, measuring the key aspects of water quality, MetriNet demonstrates tap water quality and in turn increases critical confidence.
Fixing the physical infrastructure and reducing leakage is not enough; we need to restore public confidence in tap water. Only when we have water quality data at our fingertips can we start to educate and reassure the public about tap water safety, supported by real-time evidence, along with the health, financial and environmental benefits over its bottled counterpart.
As custodians and guardians of the journey that water takes, the water sector needs to make a concerted effort to increase public confidence and encourage communities to ‘Trust the Tap’.