United Water Celebrates Drinking Water Week

May 5 -11 is Drinking Water Week. For more than 35 years the American Water Works Association (AWWA), along with its members have celebrated Drinking Water Week with the goal of creating awareness and recognizing the vital role water plays in our daily lives.

Clean, safe water flowing from our tap is something we in the US take for granted. No one wants to be without water – not even for a few hours.  And no one wants the cost and inconvenience that a ruptured main or repair work can cause.

Yet during the current Drinking Water Week, which runs from May 5-11, communities across the US will suffer 5,000 breaks to water mains. That fact highlights the unavoidable challenge facing our country today – renewing a water system which, in places, predates the Civil War.

With decades of deferred investment the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) currently grades the nation’s water infrastructure a “D+”, meaning there is a “strong risk of failure.” The ASCE puts a $1 trillion price tag on bringing water mains up to standard over the next 25 years.

Yet the looming cost to communities is not just a financial one. Poorly maintained systems will turn back the clock on decades of progress in public health standards – and raise health risks.

Back in 1900, 25,000 Americans died of typhoid carried in drinking water. By 1960, with chlorine treatment, typhoid deaths fell 1000-fold to 20. Today, no one in the US dies from drinking tap water.

That remarkable achievement began with the work of a New Jersey doctor who in 1908 first used chlorine to purify drinking water at the Boonton plant, which United Water operates in partnership with Jersey City.

Dr. John L. Leal, was born 155 years ago this week. His birthday was on May 5, the start of Drinking Water Week.

Michael J. McGuire, an environmental engineer who has written a book about Leal, “The Chlorine Revolution,” says: “He saved probably millions of lives. He was a true revolutionary.”

Leal, who never patented the idea and never sought to make money from it, died and was buried in an unmarked grave in 1914. The American Water Works Association, which called Leal “the most important public health figure you’ve never heard of,” on his 155th birthday gave him due recognition and inducted the doctor into the organization’s Hall of Fame.

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