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General Questions and Information

What is the Partnership for Safe Water?

The Partnership for Safe Water is a voluntary effort that encourages public water systems to survey their facilities, treatment processes, operating and maintenance procedures, and management oversight practices. It is geared toward filter plants that obtain source water from reservoirs, lakes, rivers and streams. The Partnership's goal is to provide a new measure of safety to millions of Pennsylvanians. The program's self-assessments identify areas that will enhance the water system's ability to prevent entry of Cryptosporidium, Giardia and other microbial contaminants into the treated water. At the same time, system staff can voluntarily make corrections that are appropriate for the water system. In essence, the preventative measures are based on optimizing treatment plant performance and thus increasing protection against microbial contamination in the state's drinking water supplies.

Why should a water system become a member of the Partnership for Safe Water?

The Partnership program works on the principle that "it is better to fix the roof when skies are sunny." The federal government has already proposed stricter performance requirements for filter plants that treat surface water. Accordingly, the program provides operators, managers and administrators with the tools to assess the filter plant and prevent problems or possible violations before they occur. Furthermore, when a water system becomes a member (called a "Water Supply Partner") all staff at the filter plant are encouraged to identify weaknesses in the treatment processes that could lead to problems under challenging conditions. The program shows operators how to focus on optimizing treatment under the most difficult circumstances. These conditions include poor source water quality, failure of critical equipment, and high system flow demands. Thus, the Partnership also works under the premise that "it is better to inspect the roof before it rains" in case a "fix" is needed.

Are there other benefits besides improved treatment plant performance?

Yes! If the water system is interested, one of the Partnership's emphases is on developing good public and media relations. Using a special media kit, Pennsylvania Water Supply Partners have successfully showcased their accomplishments through newspaper and television coverage as well as in Consumer Confidence Reports. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has published articles in its widely disseminated Update newsletter. Furthermore, the Pennsylvania Section American Water Works Association has recognized Water Supply Partners in its quarterly Water News Source and during the annual statewide conference. In addition, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DEP have awarded recognition certificates when Water Supply Partners complete the various phases of the Partnership. These certificates include the "Certificate of Participation" (for executing the Phase I Partnership Agreement), the "Certificate of Recognition" (Phase III) signed by the Deputy Secretaries for Water Management and Field Operations and the "Excellence in Water Treatment" (Phase IV) plaque signed by the Department Secretary.

How is the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) involved?

DEP has already provided and will continue with public recognition and promotion for the state's Water Supply Partners. More importantly, DEP has trained staff in its field offices to help systems with the Partnership software as well as with any technical difficulties concerning the self-assessment procedures. Along with utility personnel, DEP staff participate on the team that peer-reviews all Pennsylvania self-assessment reports and will remain part of the Third-Party Assessment Team if the water system chooses to complete this phase. DEP has also provided a grant (obtained through state revolving loan funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) to the Pennsylvania Section American Water Works Association. This has enabled the Association's representatives to visit the Commonwealth's treatment plants to explain the benefits of the Partnership program and obtain membership. It will also provide more assistance to water systems working toward Phase III.

Who in the water system will be involved in the program?

The Water Supply Partner should choose a Partnership Coordinator to oversee activities and periodically check for progress. The Partnership encourages all operators, superintendents and key administrators to be a part of assessing the operations, design, administration and maintenance practices. Participating utilities must be able to assure that they have a commitment to improvement from all of their employees - from water treatment plant operators to top management. By getting more personnel involved, the lines of communication are fully opened. This has the added benefit of increasing the depth of skilled personnel since all first-line operators can contribute ideas and learn from the process. Perhaps most importantly, the spirit of the Partnership program is that good operators are always learning.

How long does it take to complete the program and are there any deadlines?

After signing the Partnership Agreement (Phase I), the water system needs to send the American Water Works Association a year's worth of daily raw and finished water turbidity information. This "Phase II" activity should be accomplished within 180 days after signing the agreement. After this, the water system progresses into the self-assessment phase (Phase III), which is self-paced. In Pennsylvania, water systems that have completed Phase III have reported it takes about three years to work through a self-assessment and write the final report. The final phase (called the Phase IV Third-Party Assessment) is an optional, independent evaluation that will be completed at the water system's request. The system will probably need additional time after Phase III to correct any problems that were identified in the self-assessment report.

How much does the Partnership program cost?

The Partnership's annual fees range from $50 for small systems serving less than 18,000 people to $3,300 for large systems serving more than 700,000 people. The fee is scaled to eight different population groups; however, the vast majority of water systems in Pennsylvania will pay no more than a $250 annual fee. In exchange for these fees, the system acquires a one-of-a-kind technical manual that provides a systematic approach on assessing operations, design, administration and maintenance practices. Furthermore, two unique software applications provide trend graphs on turbidity levels and help plant personnel to evaluate flocculation, sedimentation, filtration and disinfection unit processes. In addition, the Partnership stresses low-cost optimization - meaning improved plant performance through better operations instead of undertaking major construction projects. Although the costs and results of each self-assessment are very site-specific, the Partnership helps improve performance of existing facilities and possibly reduces costs from wasted treatment chemicals or inefficient filter backwash timing or procedures.

How much work is involved?

Water systems should know that the Partnership is not a "rubber stamp" program. The "Certificate of Recognition" award for completing Phase III is truly earned. It involves a rigorous self-assessment process that provides substantial personal rewards in the way of knowledge, skills and abilities for those involved. While classroom training serves a good purpose, there's no better way to learn treatment optimization than for plant personnel to experience the evaluation first-hand by working though the program themselves. In the end, the amount of work involved is very site-specific - the type of treatment involved, the system's population served, and the skills and available time of all water system staff.

Are there other requirements?

The only annual obligation is for the Water Supply Partner to send their annual turbidity graphs to Denver. This data should be accompanied by a cover letter outlining Partnership activities for the past year as well as expected activities in the next year.

Will anyone send the system's turbidity performance data and reports to the media?

No. The American Water Works Association has been chosen as a data collection and analysis point to insure that the identity of the utilities providing information will remain anonymous at the national level. DEP, too, will not disseminate documents or reports to the general public or media unless requested under the Right to Know Law. It is unlikely that anyone will inquire about Partnership information at DEP's offices. Even so, DEP (and the Allegheny County Health Department) already collects, develops trend graphs, and files detailed reports on turbidity information collected during all filter plant performance evaluations in the state. These detailed evaluation reports also contain DEP-identified problems that affect treatment plant performance and are part of the public record. By joining the Partnership program, a Water Supply Partner has an opportunity to identify and correct problems before DEP staff identify the same problems.

Who will be reviewing the water system's Phase III self-assessment reports?

The Partnership organizations sponsor an on-going technical training program to establish a nationwide volunteer team to complete an unbiased review of the reports. The majority of the team members are Water Supply Partner staff who have completed their own self-assessment reports. In Pennsylvania, at least one staff person from DEP (who is also certified through the special training program) will participate in the peer review of the self-assessment report. Any Water Supply Partner has the right to contact the American Water Works Association in Denver to request a national list of regional coordinators who assemble the team of peer reviewers. If necessary, Partners may then contact the appropriate coordinator to discuss the make-up of the review team for their own report.

Do all public water systems in Pennsylvania qualify to participate in the Partnership?

No. The program is tailored for surface water treatment plants that are operated by motivated staff who want to achieve the best performance. Currently, Pennsylvania's Water Supply Partners are among some of the best filter plants in the country. Many of them have staff who excel at optimizing treatment and have a good attitude about preparing for the future. On the technology side of things, plants that obtain water entirely from a groundwater source are currently not eligible to participate in the Partnership. In addition, filter plants that use slow sand filtration technology or diatomaceous earth technology will probably not benefit as much as the other types of treatment technologies in Pennsylvania. Overall, most of the state's 356 filter plants are eligible to participate. This is especially important because these plants serve about 8 million of the state's 12 million residents and untold numbers of out-of-state visitors.

Do small water systems have the resources or know-how to participate in the Partnership?

Yes. Generally speaking, though, small systems have fewer staff with more daily obligations outside of the water treatment plant. As a result, some small systems (but not all) will need additional help in completing certain steps in the Partnership. DEP's Water System Outreach Program is available to assist small systems with basic computer skills and offers other types of technical support. DEP's surface water treatment specialists will especially help small water systems under the premise that these systems will remain optimized for the long haul if their operations staff learn from the Partnership experience.

Will the Partnership lead to more stringent regulations at the national level?

No. The turbidity performance target of 0.1 NTU is already widely recognized as an achievable performance goal by major water industry organizations. Through Pennsylvania's filter plant performance evaluation program, DEP has been promoting this performance level since the late 1980's. As far as leading to more regulations, the Partnership organizations have adopted a policy that cautions against using any of the program's goals in support of a turbidity regulation of 0.1 NTU. Given these facts, the options for the nation's water systems is to either improve performance now or do nothing at all, knowing that science is likely to learn more about waterborne disease-causing protozoa, bacteria and viruses that present risks at higher turbidity levels.

Does the Partnership for Safe Water truly improve filter plant performance?

Yes! The Partnership's 1999 annual report closely examined turbidity data from 78 utilities that have so far completed the Phase III self-assessment. These treatment plants have lowered their finished water turbidity by more than 30 percent compared to their turbidities prior to joining the program. These results are even more impressive considering the majority of the plants were performing very well even before the start of the self-assessment process.

Do I have to be a member of any of the Partnership organizations to participate?

No. The Partnership for Safe Water represents the following water system organizations: the American Water Works Association, the American Water Works Association Research Foundation, the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, and the National Association of Water Companies. Membership in these organizations is not necessary to participate in the Partnership. In addition, the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and (in Pennsylvania) the DEP are an integral part of the organizations that serve as a resource and support the program.

Can you provide more details on the various phases of the Partnership?

Phase I: Commitment
Any partnership requires commitment. This Partnership requires commitment from operators and upper management if it is to be meaningful. The idea is to change mindsets from simply meeting the regulations, to evaluating existing deficiencies and correcting them. The result is that the water system creates a tenacity for quality that is intrinsic throughout all levels of the organization. Prior to making this commitment, the utility can express initial interest in obtaining Partnership information by contacting the Pennsylvania Section American Water Works Association at 717-774-8870 or e-mail paawwa@paawwa.org.

Once the utility has decided to commit to the Partnership program, they will be required to return a signed agreement form to the American Water Works Association in Denver. This document indicates the willingness of the water system to proceed with the next steps of the Partnership. When the signed agreement form is received in the Denver office, the utility will receive a public relations packet full of materials to be used for press releases, the technical materials and software, and the Partnership for Safe Water program's "Certificate of Participation".

Phase II: Data Collection and Analysis
This step requires each water utility to collect one year's worth of turbidity data to be used as a baseline data set. The water system is given a set of computer spreadsheets that, once the data has been entered, allow the utility to create a probability distribution curve of the utility's turbidity data. Once plant personnel have created the probability distribution curve, a copy of the curve and the input data is sent to the Partnership for Safe Water c/o the American Water Works Association in Denver, for entry into a collective national database of turbidity information. The Association has been chosen as a data collection and analysis point to insure that the identity of the utilities providing information will remain anonymous at the national level. Once a year, the Association will analyze the collective national turbidity database and produce a cumulative national probability curve and up to five cumulative regional probability curves. This cumulative information will be returned to each participating utility, in hopes that water system staff will use the information to benchmark their water quality against other water qualities in their region and throughout the nation.

This information gathering and analysis cycle is repeated yearly for as long as the system wishes to participate in the Partnership. By continuing to analyze and submit their turbidity data to the American Water Works Association, the utility provides scientific evidence (to themselves and to others) that their active pursuit of improvement is paying off in a safer water supply. They will continue to get the national and regional cumulative totals so they can judge their improvement against the improvement shown by other utilities.

Phase III: Self Assessment
This phase allows the utility to examine the capabilities of the existing plant's operation, design and administration, with the resultant identification of those factors that limit performance. Once the utility has performed this self examination, it develops a plan for implementing corrections. The Phase III completion report summarizes the performance-limiting factors, any corrective steps taken, and performance improvements shown. The Phase III completion report is reviewed by a national Program Effectiveness Assessment Committee (PEAC) to make sure the process is productive, effective and unbiased. This review process is initiated when the utility sends its Phase III completion report to the Partnership office in Denver.

When the water system sends a Phase III completion report to the Partnership office, the report will be screened for three necessary items: performance trends charts, individual filter turbidity profiles, and a performance potential graph, as explained in the introductory memo to all of the partners. If these minimum criteria are met, the Denver office will forward the document to the appropriate district PEAC vice-chair for processing.

The vice-chair will assign the document to a minimum of three PEAC volunteers, which may include the vice-chair and DEP staff, who will commit to reviewing the document within two weeks. The PEAC reviewers will use the assessment matrix as an evaluation tool to record initial perceptions, whereupon the group will teleconference at a prearranged time. During the teleconference, the group will share scores and thoughts, and determine if additional data is needed from the utility. If that is the case, the group will request by phone and with written backup, any materials which they deem pertinent to the effort.

When the PEAC group is satisfied that all the materials that are available are in their possession, they will record their final perceptions through the use of fourteen categories contained in a matrix. This matrix shall reflect a consensus of the group. The group will sort and prioritize the strengths and weaknesses of the written submittal, and develop a one-page feedback report. The report will be reviewed by the vice-chair and chair of the PEAC and modified if necessary. The report will be sent to the utility with an indication of the PEAC's intent to recommend or not recommend approval. If the Phase III completion report is recommended for approval, both DEP and EPA are informed in writing. If DEP and EPA agree with the recommendation for approval, they will award the utility a "Certificate of Recognition" for excellence in finished water quality.

Phase IV: Third-Party Assessment
This is the optional phase of the Partnership. The objective of Phase IV is to provide recognition to filter plants that have achieved the highest possible levels of turbidity performance. Water systems that are considering pursuing Phase IV recognition must understand that they will be assessed against very stringent performance goals. Phase IV represents a significant "raising of the bar" over Phase III of the Partnership.

Phase IV consists of the completion of a special application package and four levels of review. First, the application package undergoes an administrative review by Partnership staff at the national AWWA office to make sure that the package has all of the information needed for the other levels of review. When the AWWA staff considers the package complete, they will pass it on for the second level of review completed by volunteers from the Program Effectiveness Assessment Committee (PEAC). The PEAC will review the performance data and other information supplied in the application package and determine if the plant has met the goals of Phase IV. When the PEAC's review is complete, they will make a recommendation to the Partnership's Steering Committee to ensure there is consistency between the PEAC reviews and that each Partnership organization agrees with the decision to award the Phase IV recognition. Finally, a team of DEP staff who are trained in Phase IV assessments will conduct an on-site assessment to determine if the filter plant meets the criteria outlined in the application package. Completion of this step leads to DEP's and EPA's most prestigious award, the "Excellence in Water Treatment" award. After receiving Phase IV award, the water system submits performance data annually to renew their Phase IV status.

Any Phase III Partnership member can request a copy of the Phase IV application package, which provides details on performance criteria. Copies are available from the Partnership for Safe Water Coordinator, American Water Works Association, 6666 W. Quincy Avenue, Denver, CO 80235.

Are there any other difficulties that water systems should know about?

Being ahead of the pack always has its difficulties. This can best be summed up in a single quote: "The problem with forward thinking is that you spend so much time waiting for others to catch up." Water Supply Partners often find themselves on the leading edge of high quality water production.