Every year water purveyors, by federal law, must issue a report to their consumers telling them about their water quality. The problem is trying to understand that report.
The Consumer Confidence Report, or CCR, traditionally comes with water bills, or it may be mailed separately. Starting this year, however, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is allowing electronic reporting for the larger water companies. Many utilities are going this way.
The reports bring little response from customers, and even those who compile them admit they are hard to comprehend.
“There are not a lot of calls about CCRs, I think because it’s very difficult to understand. I own a lab. We do CCRs, 150 to 200 a year, and sometimes we have a hard time understanding them,” said Michael Furrey, president of Agra Environmental & Laboratory Services in Dover, Morris County.
The CCR, among other things, explains the highest level of a contaminant allowed, called maximum contaminant level, or MCL, along with the action level, or AL, that requires immediate action such as installing a carbon filtration system or using chemicals or ozone technology to kill bacteria. The reports also list a maximum contaminant level goal, or MCLG, a level below which there is no known health risk.
Neil Goldfine, executive director of the Atlantic City Municipal Utilities Authority, said he might get one inquiry a year about the CCR, which he used to mail out but this year is posting on the utility’s website to save $5,000 in mailing costs.
“We put a notice on the bill, and we printed 2,400 we plan to distribute in the high-rises,” Goldfine said.
New Jersey American Water Co., which operates 36 water systems with 700,000 customers in the state, is saving $300,000 this year by not mailing out the reports, said Anthony Matarazzo, senior director of water quality for the utility. New Jersey American Water customers can visit the utility’s website and click on “water quality reports” to find the one for their area.
Billing and radio spots will tell consumers of the change, and hard copies will be sent to area libraries or to consumers who request them, he added.
Carol Walczyk, a senior project manager at the engineering firm Hatch, Mott, MacDonald, which also prepares CCRs, suggests consumers also visit the Department of Environmental Protection’s New Jersey Drinking Water Watch website.
One way to find it is to use a search engine and type in “New Jersey Drinking Water Watch.” On the home page, type in the name of the water company, and a page will come up listing all of the violations in recent years. It also has information on the type of water system, where the water comes from and results of all tests.
“CCRs are difficult to read and very wordy. Water Watch doesn’t have the regulations or the MCLs. A combination of CCRs and Drinking Water Watch is what really needs to happen,” Walczyk said.
The industry embraces the federal regulations that require the testing and reporting, said Dennis Ciemniecki of the New Jersey Section of the American Water Works Association, a trade group for the industry.
“We want transparency and dialogue on the content and nature of the water we provide to our customers. Is it a little technical? Yes, but I don’t think that’s a reason to stop doing it. People need to know where their water is coming from and whether it meets standards,” Ciemniecki said.
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