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Kids safe to sip from school faucets, thanks to CECorps and AWWA section

Students and teachers at a rural elementary school in Washington are now safe to sip from onsite water fountains, thanks to a Community Engineering Corps (CECorps) project completed by the Pacific Northwest Section of the American Water Works Association (PNWS-AWWA).

Lynn Williams StephensThe school serves students in kindergarten through eighth grade and hosts community activities. The water system in the building had intermittently experienced high concentrations of lead in its water supply, which comes from a single well. Samples from specific faucets had lead levels of 40 parts per billion (ppb), exceeding the State of Washington’s lead action level of 15 ppb (90th percentile).

A CECorps team of PNWS-AWWA volunteers, led by Lynn Williams Stephens (pictured right) and John Roth (pictured below), visited the site in the fall of 2016 and initiated measures to correct the situation.

“We wanted a project that helped a low-income community address a water quality problem and the State of Washington Department of Health referred us to this school,” said Stephens, who works at Brown & Caldwell in Seattle. “I can’t think of a more important place than a school to try to reduce lead exposure. This also opened my eyes to the small-scale water systems I didn’t even know existed.”

Volunteers in action

John RothThe school did not have a full-time water operator and relied on contractors. In 2015, when the building’s 90th percentile lead level exceeded the action level and the school was notified by the state, the school hired a consultant to complete pilot testing and routine sampling. The consultant recommended installation of a $20,000 aeration treatment.

New regulatory samples taken later that year showed compliance. No steps were taken until 2018, when high lead levels were again recorded, and the school was told to take action by the Washington Department of Health. That’s when the CECorps team stepped in.

Bill PersichWith help from other technical experts -- Bill Persich (pictured left at sink), Patrick Craney and Melinda Friedman -- the team quickly took these actions:

  • Reviewed the installed system and related engineering and operational reports, regulatory letters, and consultant recommendations
  • Reviewed existing water quality data
  • Conducted additional water quality sampling
  • Developed alternatives for review by the team and other CECorps national volunteers

Volunteers considered non-treatment and treatment options, including piping and fixture replacement and addition of aeration, a calcite contractor or orthophosphate. These treatment alternatives were selected because of their ease of operation for small water systems. The entire engineering assessment was conducted pro-bono.

CECorps team recommendations

The CECorps team recommended that the school first try to get the lead out of the water system by replacing piping and fixtures with lead-free models. “If funding was an issue or the resulting samples did not consistently meet water quality goals, the team suggested an aeration system be installed to treat the corrosive well water,” Stephens said.

The school applied for grant funding with support from the CECorps team. The school was awarded an Urgent Repair Grant for $200,000 in 2018, which funded a total piping, fixtures, and appurtenances replacement project. In the summer of 2019, the CECorps provided review of the design drawings for the piping replacement project and the piping was replaced before the start of the 2019 school year.

Water quality in the fall of 2019 showed lower lead levels. The highest lead level measured was less than 4 ppb.

“This is the reason I went into the drinking water field and continue to do the work that I do,” said Stephens. “It’s tremendously valuable that some of the leaders in the water sector are finding ways like this to help people right here in our country.”


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