Taking a closer look at a fluid difference
By Max Filby
FROM PLANT TO TAP
For Chad Johnson, water is typically his only company while on the job.
As Johnson makes his hourly rounds, the smell of chlorine and other chemicals is as constant as the sound of rushing water in each sector of the Bowling Green Water Treatment Plant on West River Road.
Johnson, a life-long Bowling Green resident is also the superintendent of the plant where he’s worked for the past 20 years.
During his time at the plant, Johnson has worked to keep up with the “extremely strict” standards of the Environmental Protection Agency, he said. While Johnson is focusing on certain EPA standards, his competitors in the bottled water industry are obeying a different set of standards by the Food and Drug Administration.
“You never know what you’re getting in one of those bottles,” Johnson said. “I don’t really see any sense in it.”
Bowling Green water is free of any contaminant violations in all categories including ones testing for traces of lead and chloroform, according to a 2010 water quality report. The plant has actually been violation free since 2003, Johnson said.
“It’s something we’re really proud of, just to be able to say that,” he said.
After being violation free for so many years, Johnson continues to root for tap water of a bottled alternative. Johnson carries a reusable water bottle as he prepares to start his rounds again.
Instead of not knowing what he’s drinking, Johnson prefers his reusable bottle because he knows what it contains.
MAKING AN IMPACT
Johnson may work closely with what Bowling Green citizens are drinking, but a student group on campus is working toward a similar goal in a different way.
Every Tuesday night at 9 p.m. Gabriel Morgan leads a meeting for an organization called Net Impact in the creativity lab of the Business Administration Building on the campus of Bowling Green State University.
Net Impact has been around for a little over a year now and focuses on a World Water Week project to educate students on the healthiness of tap water and the wastefulness of bottled water in what Morgan refers to as a “global water crisis.”
“Drinking tap water is all around safer and it reduces waste, which is becoming a big issue,” Morgan said. “It falls into that first category of ‘the three R’s.’
Reduce, reuse and recycle is one aspect Morgan and his group of “social and environmental change-makers” emphasize while educating students with “dirty water bottles.”
In continuing its World Water Week project, group members like Alexandra Ordway are still trying to figure out how to make students understand that the convenience of water bottles doesn’t outweigh its lower standards, she said..
“I think it’s kind of unnecessary,” Ordway said. “I understand the whole convenience thing, but it gives people the false sense that what they’re drinking is sanitary.”
BOTTLING THE “BETTER OPTION”
While Johnson and the members of Net Impact are trying to bottom out the bottled water industry, a group of people in Virginia are trying to do just the opposite.
The International Bottled Water Association promotes itself as the “voice of the bottled water industry,” said Chris Hogan, IBWA vice president of communications.
“Drinking water is an excellent option when you are looking to stay hydrated, but we do promote what we think is the better option out there,” Hogan said, referring to bottled water.
IBWA and Hogan’s beloved bottled water is quickly becoming the second most popular beverage, right after soft drinks, according to the FDA’s website.
Although the tap water Johnson cares for is regulated by the EPA, the FDA regulates bottled water as a food item, putting it in the same category as a soft drink, according to the FDA’s website.
Despite talk of bottled falling short of standards similar to those of tap water, Hogan said that bottled water is held to a different set of standards that are still strict, even though they may not come from the EPA.
“That’s something we hear people talk about a lot,” Hogan said. “But, in some cases some standards for bottled water don’t exist for tap water.”
Hogan is referring to standards including certain traces of elements within bottled water, he said.
“It always seems if someone has a beef with bottled water, they’ll pull out the most inconveniently priced bottle of water from a hotel and compare it to tap water,” Hogan said. “The fact is that they’re two different things, they’re incomparable.”
BATTLING THE BOTTLE
At the water plant where Johnson works, him and his team of operators are working to continue bringing Bowling Green’s water qualities above or at the level of the bottles Hogan and the IBWA boast about.
In its battle against the bottle, the plant utilizes several large tanks of chemicals and machinery to get the city’s water up to one of the highest levels of quality in Ohio, Johnson said.
As Johnson continues on another one of his hourly rounds, he checks the filtration and disinfection systems, some of which date back to when the plant first opened in 1951.
“The newest equipment has been a big help,” Johnson said as he pointed to a small monitor attached to a series of tanks. “It’s taken the level of toxins in our water down to less than .03 percent.”
The improved treatment is just something Johnson associates as part of the everyday job of meeting EPA standards before pumping out between 3 million and 7 million gallons a day.
“The EPA is extremely strict, we’ve got all kinds of chemical testing and other requirements we have to meet and we do meet all of them,” Johnson said.
After taking care of Bowling Green’s water supply for 20 years, Johnson believes people just don’t know about the plant’s improvements in quality to what flows from each faucet.
“I don’t think that people understand,” Johnson said. “The water quality is extremely high here. It’s just fine.”