November 2002: Volume 44, Number 11
Providing a ’Net for Safe Drinking Water -- Making Sites ‘Green’ with Envy
by Ronald Y. Pérez, WC&P Managing Editor
At least twice a year, we at the magazine will get an article submission that includes the most overused and clichéd quote in the annals of water-related pieces of writing and/or quotations. “Water, water, everywhere…” OK, you know the rest. It’s attributed to Samuel Taylor Coleridge who, I am sure, is still turning over in his grave 168 years later over the notion that many people know him for this quote and nothing else. Besides, we want quotes that don’t necessarily point out the obvious but attempt to make sense (or cents) of it all, right?
So, this being the water treatment industry, I propose to you another quote. This one was muttered by Thomas Carlyle around the same period in history as the Coleridge one above.
“The work an unknown good man has done is like a vein of water flowing hidden underground, secretly making the ground green.”
Why does this qualify as a more apropos quote than “water, water, everywhere…”? Well, there are many reasons but let’s hit the obvious one. Carlyle’s is a more positive message than Coleridge’s quote that ends with “nor any drop to drink.” The “green” reference in Carlyle’s words also offers a mixed message -- one more environmental, or altruistic; the other pragmatic. After all, how many of you water treatment dealers would be in this field if it wouldn’t afford you a decent living? Hands, hands, everywhere, nor any of them raised. That’s the point. As long as the public desires clean drinking water, our chances of having a job tomorrow are pretty good. Ah yes, drinking water. What a topic to tackle in our website review. As we put away the Carlyle/Coleridge analysis for another time, we turn our attention to three sites that track the lifeblood of our industry.
Under the banner headline “Drinking Water Resources,” Randy is ready to provide “everything you wanted to know about drinking water, but didn’t know who to ask.” Presumably, Randy is the real name of the mind behind this site, or at least that’s the prefix title of a “contact us” email address. Whatever the case, I like the overall feel of the home page. It’s a little long and the main buttons are located on the right fifth of the page, but you learn to cope with these inconveniences at any site that has something worthy to say. And this one qualifies as such.
Before detailing the main buttons, let’s roam from top to bottom and left to right. Throughout the home page, the author speaks in first person and covers four overriding themes throughout the site -- potential contaminants in drinking water, effects of contaminants on one’s health, various drinking water purification methods, and terrorism and drinking water (a topic heightened by the events over the past year or so). And where does he cull this information? Sources include government sites, environmental organizations, water industry groups and treatment facilities, university-based cooperative extension services and research groups and media publications.
Further down, the site includes “water related topics of special interest.” Among those are lead in drinking water and the dangers related to pregnant women and their children, a much-discussed report on the state of water supplies in the United States that ran in an August 2002 issue of U.S. News & World Report, and a do-it-yourself section for consumers. These three subjects each carry a link for more information.
As we inch closer to the bottom of the page, I’m invited to take a drinking water survey. In all, a dozen, straightforward questions are asked and include queries such as “have you ever been told that your household water is unsafe and to either boil your water before drinking it or to drink bottled water until the problem has been corrected?” (In this line of questioning, did you notice a slight to bottled water? This tone can be felt in a couple of different areas within the site). All survey responses are kept confidential and an occasional summary of results is posted on the site.
I return to the top right corner of the home page for the main buttons and scan the highlighted links under various headings. Drinking Water Concerns contains four sub-topics. One is concerns about water safety and allows visitors direct links to the Water Quality report from Denver Water and the USEPA’s Safe Drinking Water Query Form. What the site’s brain trust lacks in technical knowledge, he/she more than makes up for in research tools and resources. Next is Drinking Water Contaminants with another four sub-headings. At least for me, the most notable one was a small excerpt from a Popular Science done with Carol Browner, then-USEPA administrator. Both questions posed to her paint a negative picture of bottled water.
The third button is Risk Factors For Contaminants. Drinking water sources are explored in the first of eight sub-headings, and it breaks down potential risks by municipal water and private water, i.e, wells, springs and surface water. Treatment methodsContact Me is your run-of-the-mill, interactive opportunity with the author. Last is Links and a brilliant way to tie a bow on the site and shouldn’t be overlooked. First, over 300 links are at your disposal and separated by subject (i.e., education, journal abstracts, emergency drinking water) and category (i.e., environmental and international sites). Finally but importantly, “terrorism and drinking water” is an extensive look at the topic and will definitely hold your interest -- uppermost in our minds for the past year.
From a more involved site in cyber-nook.com, we go to a much simpler presentation sponsored by McGuire Environmental Consultants Inc., of Santa Monica, Calif. The company provides services to the municipal and private water utility market, especially in the areas of water quality and water treatment. Almost without scrolling, you can cover the entire site’s home page with a single view. If you cherish ease of navigation like I do, this is one example of how it’s done right.
The main buttons are located near the top of the home page and read from left to right -- About Us, News, Subscribe, Links, Recommend, and Post Job. We’ll take these one by one and provide some highlights. About Us outlines the site’s main goal, which is “strictly drinking water quality.” Along with the chance to subscribe to an electronic newsletter (this would be a strong recommendation considering its news updates, but more on that later), there’s a list of frequently asked questions. As I peruse the 20 or so questions, I discover not only is the newsletter free but it’s void of any advertising. Hallelujah! I also learn that it’s a weekly listing but with an eye toward making it daily in the future.
Next, News gives visitors the opportunity to look at the “Current issue” as well as “Browse past issues” and “Previously issued Alerts.” I click on “Current issue” and get a list of news items conveniently separated into various categories from federal updates and microbiological news to bottled water and international items. Near the top of this particular page, a classified section is provided for those seeking technician, engineering and managerial positions in the water treatment industry. With such a relatively new newsletter (begun on Nov. 10, 2000), browsing for past issues is a simple task. “Previously issued Alerts” follows the regulatory actions of the USEPA, U.S. Congress, and other government agencies with regard to water quality legislation. Of course, each item carries a link for further information.
Subscribe is self-explanatory and painless to boot. I signed up in a couple of minutes. Any application form that doesn’t ask for my annual income or my favorite color is very welcome. In the past, this column has reviewed many websites containing links pages that were either incomplete or not worthy of a main button. The Links function here is neither. In fact, it provides a listing that covers the following areas of interest -- links from other sites; water associations; professional societies; federal, state and local agencies; publications, business, and partners. Some sites have been previously covered by WC&P, and others may be reviewed in the future. Stay tuned.
Recommend allows visitors to invite a friend as a recipient of the newsletter. For those visitors who run their own companies and are looking to hire new help, Post Job gives you the skinny on the details. A standard posting is $100 and runs on the site for 45 days. As we return to the site’s home page, and under the main buttons, a few news items are listed daily. Want to see the latest on radon in drinking water? No problem. Go to the search button at the bottom right and type in your key word. “Radon” -- bingo, 11 hits pop up.
Within our review, navigation continues to be very easy. This site, billed as “the online information system for the drinking water community,” has its main buttons from top to bottom with ubiquitous droplet symbols to the left of each button. They consist of welcome, h2o news, services, partners, events, links, search, and subscribe.
Serving as the site’s “About Us” page, welcome provides nuances of the site such as its site search function and registration form. It also gives a link to an education section. After clicking there, three presentations and some general information are listed with corresponding links. The presentations are -- ”Drinking Water 101,” “Information Revolution: Turning Data into Information -- A Strategic Necessity,” and “The Bottom Line on the ICR Microbial Data.” From what I can tell, the h2o news department is updated daily.
Services allows visitors access to certain rules and regulations via the site. Some examples are assessment surveys and AWWA Research Foundation studies. A few require a password before they can be viewed. Proving the drinking water community is a small world after all, this site is partnered with McGuire Environmental Consultants and another of its partners is the Technology Planning and Management Corp., a partner also listed by safedrinkingwater.com. A direct link to each partner’s site is supplied.
If interested in upcoming drinking water trade shows and meetings and their locales, visitors can go to events. The calendar looks ahead only two months but links are provided in case one needs contact or general information. Again, we find a site that doesn’t disappoint with its links page. An international section is also included and lists several Canadian and European groups and associations. Search has its own button at this site whereas most sites will relegate this function to a box on the home page. I try “HPC bacteria” and get no matches. Oh well, I’ve found the first (and minor) flaw of the site. Finally, subscribe presents a short questionnaire for visitors to complete.
Across the board, the sites reviewed here elicited almost nothing but positive comments. This came unexpectedly since the three sites were chosen at random. As witnessed by the links pages, there are many other sites to explore as well (see EXTRA). If only they knew about what people are doing to improve drinking water today, even Coleridge would be optimistic about our water supplies and Carlyle would be lauding “good men” all over for the “green” they have created.
Breaking the Waves
This Randy is dandy! Sure, some bottler/dealers may take issue with some of the site’s slight toward that market segment, but you can’t deny the other 95 percent of content. Technophiles will be disappointed, but this site belongs in the upper echelon.
News is the main focus here. This comes in handy when you need something straight from today’s pages. The NGWA has lent their name as a partner so this site gains serious “street cred.” As a relative newcomer, the best may still be ahead for the site.
Call this being at the right place at the wrong time. If it weren’t for the other sites, this one would look a lot better. Whereas the other sites delve deeply into each main button, this one prefers to scratch the surface while making visitors want more.
EXTRA: Safety in numbers (of sites)
There is nary a shortage of serviceable websites on the Internet that discuss drinking water. Here are a few you may want to discover on your own.
(mineral waters of the world)