When I first had the idea to tour the water treatment plant, water quality barely registered on people's consciousness.
Now it's the focus of political campaigns across the country.
So let's start off with something controversial. I asked Bruce Northrup, our Water Treatment Plant Manager, how much lead the City of Topeka has in its water.
But we knew that before the EPA even started having everyone test for lead in the early '90s. And here's why:
1. We have hard water. That water ring you have to clean around your faucets? That's calcium and a dash of magnesium. These minerals, found naturally in our water source (the ole Kansas River), build up in our pipes, protecting them from water corrosion.
2. We add phosphate. Have since the 60s. (1 gallon for every 1 million gallons, so not a lot). It acts as an anti-corrosion agent.
3. And perhaps most important of all, none of our water mains are made of lead.
You'll find lead in Topeka's water system only two places, and both apply to individual homes:
-- In some of the service lines (the lines that connect our mains to individual homes) of homes built before 1935.
-- In some homes built between 1970 and 1980, when plumbers used lead to solder copper pipe.
We actually test 50 of those homes -- 25 with lead service lines, 25 with lead solder -- every three years for lead levels. Since the inception of EPA lead testing in the 1990s, we've never had levels above regulations. It's why we only have to test every three years.
If you're still worried about lead coming through your service line, leave your water on for 30 seconds to 1 minute. That will flush the water that has been sitting in your service line and bring in the clean water from our pipes.
If you've got questions about your service, call our customer service line: 785-368-3111. It's actually housed at the water treatment plant, and they'll be able to help you.
There. Now that that's out of the way, let's see what actually goes on in our water plant.
Northrup has worked at our water treatment plant for 43 years. Before the EPA, when water utilities only had to monitor fewer than 10 things.
Now, there are several hundreds. And, Northrup admits, he can't pronounce most of them.