August kicked off National Water Quality Month which presented the question, “What does water quality mean to you?” If we think about it, many of us have different interpretations of what defines water quality. Aside from those aspects that appeal to our sense of taste and smell, we often take for granted that, before water exits our taps – crystal clear with a pleasing taste and absence of odor, a good deal of water quality testing takes place.
About half of the water that we use in Santa Clarita is imported several hundred miles along the open-air California Aqueduct. We know that the water which fills our bathtubs, boils in our tea kettles and sparkles in our swimming pools has little resemblance to our untreated water supply. How does the water we use appear so vastly different than what we see in a river?
The CLWA Education Department strives to teach students about water quality – what it is and why it’s important. We asked a 6th grade student at Bridgeport Elementary, what water quality means to her, “Water quality means having clean, safe water to drink and use.” She is smart! She knows exactly what we strive for everyday here at CLWA.
Water quality testing includes several steps, one of which involves examining turbidity, which is the amount of particulate matter in the water. A light source is passed through a water sample causing a scattering of that light as it encounters particles. The higher the particle count, the more the light is scattered creating an opaque appearance.
Our 6th grade chemistry program introduces the importance of testing for turbidity and gives students the opportunity to use an actual lab instrument, a Turbidimeter. Students learn that turbidity is measured in the Nephelometric Turbidity Unit (NTU). Nephele is the Greek word for ‘Cloud’ and Metric means ‘Measure’; therefore, Nephelometric means ‘Measuring Cloudiness’. Materials that can affect turbidity include clay, silt, inorganic and organic matter, algae and other microscopic organisms.
An overabundance of particles in water can affect habitat quality resulting in harm to fish and other aquatic life. Particles also provide a place of attachment for other pollutants such as metals and bacteria. Testing turbidity can help indicate the potential for water pollution. Excessive turbidity, or cloudiness, in drinking water is unappealing and could represent a health concern. Fortunately, the water treatment processes CLWA uses effectively removes turbidity from the water.
Agency employees and visitors to the CLWA lobby are amused to see students peering through the glass windows of our laboratory. Often, our chemists take a moment to smile at the curious pre-teens as our school education program asks them to try and identify some of the equipment used in the lab. It’s exciting for students to see what goes on behind the scenes and understand that examining turbidity levels is one of the several tests that we perform daily to continuously ensure that our water is clean and safe.
Through our school education programs, many students in the Santa Clarita Valley, will grow up with not only an understanding of our water and the science used to treat it, but she will expect our high standards for excellent quality to continue well into the future.