America’s water management facilities are among the safest in the world. Over 286 million people receive their tap water from a community water system according to the CDC. For most local governments, it is top priority to ensure citizens can continue to do so.

Managing and protecting water facilities is one of the most important responsibilities local government agencies have on their plate. And it’s far from being easy. Unlike some other types of infrastructure management that are easily observable, like potholes in roads or downed powerlines, understanding the quality and status of water mains is all but an invisible issue. Protecting the drinking water supply from hazards like contamination due to infrastructure failures is of utmost importance.

The federal government has done much in ensuring water quality standards are maintained. Several pieces of legislation have been designed to protect the drinking water. The Clean Water Act regulates the amount of contaminants in water and water pollution levels. The Safe Drinking Water Act establishes safe drinking water standards and runs programs aimed at maintaining those standards. It is important for a local agency to keep aware of any updates to regulatory requirements and what can be done to ensure safe drinking water at a treatment facility.

When agencies don’t maintain their water facility infrastructure and standards, tragedies can happen, as has been reported in recent years.

Here are some of the most common dangers that local agencies need to monitor for when protecting their water facilities and keeping the drinking water safe for their citizens.

THREAT #1: CONTAMINATION

Contamination can happen in the form of physical, chemical, microbial or radiological contaminants. Some of the most common contaminants that can infect the drinking water supply include lead, pesticides and other pathogens that can lead to negative health effects like Legionnaires’ disease, liver and kidney problems and intestinal infections. Agencies should always be monitoring the latest regulatory requirements on minimizing water contaminants.

THREAT #2: INFRASTRUCTURE AND ASSET MANAGEMENT FAILURE

Water main breaks, aging infrastructure and corroded water pipes all pose dangers to water quality. Agencies should be aware of ongoing construction efforts or improvement projects that might impact the drinking water. Monitor the status and condition of water pipes and address infrastructure updates as needed. Routine maintenance will help identify and address issues as they occur. Proper asset management solutions can help agencies stay ahead of potential infrastructure failures by providing up-to-date data on the age, condition and maintenance history of critical infrastructure.

THREAT #3: TERRORISM

Water distribution systems and facility infrastructure pose as potential targets to acts of biological terrorism. As more and more dams, waterways, treatment plants and distribution centers are computer controlled, they also become more susceptible to cyberattacks. Government agencies should do what they can to minimize both the physical and cyber security risk and limit potential for disruption.

THREAT #4: ENVIRONMENTAL & NATURAL DISASTERS

Natural disasters like droughts, wildfires and tornadoes can wreak havoc on water distribution and supply, leaving water quality susceptible to contamination. It is necessary for local government agencies in high-risk areas to be prepared with a natural disaster plan. California and other drought-prone states need to be vigilant and have plans in place for water conservation efforts.

Government agencies must be meticulous in maintaining water safety in terms of regulations and frequent testing. In order to provide for sustainable development and future growth, agencies should have a plan ready to protect their water facilities from potential disruption while maintaining readily available water that is safe and clean to use.