U.S. EPA Provides $7.5 Million To Establish Drinking Water Research Center At University Of Cincinnati

December 09, 1997

CINCINNATI, Ohio -- The United States Environmental Protection Agency Office of Water will provide $7.5 million over the next five years to environmental engineers at the University of Cincinnati in an effort to help utilities comply with new regulations concerning drinking water safety.

It is estimated that 40 percent of water plants would have to upgrade their systems to meet the regulations scheduled to be enforced in the year 2001, at a cost of $10 billion. Nearly 80 percent may have to upgrade to meet the anticipated regulations which take effect in 2005.

The principal investigator on the project is R. Scott Summers, associate professor in the department of civil and environmental engineering at UC. Summers served as a technical consultant to the committee which helped the U.S. EPA draft the new regulations. He has also spent 15 years researching a variety of methods to treat drinking water and improve its quality and safety.

"It's a unique and comprehensive approach. We're going to go all the way from bench-scale research to full-scale implementation, yielding a product the utilities can directly use."

To help the utilities, a Drinking Water Optimization Institute will be established in the UC College of Engineering and housed in the new Engineering Research Center. It will include bench- scale research on treatment methods and a pilot-scale plant capable of treating 30,000 gallons of water per day. In addition, associate professor James Uber will lead the effort to develop computer models that utilities can use to find the most cost- effective way of meeting the new regulations.

"Utilities will have a difficult time meeting all of the new regulations simultaneously and trying to keep the cost down," explained Summers. "The institute is really in direct response to that. We want to help the utilities fulfill all of these objectives in a cost-effective way."

Nick Pizzi, water quality manager for Cleveland's Division of Water, agreed that the institute will provide an important service. "The optimization institute will help us make intelligent decisions that protect the customer in the pocketbook and in the stomach," said Pizzi.

One of the stickiest problems facing utilities is the trade- off between effective disinfection and the potential health risks of using too much chlorine. "You want to add enough disinfectant to make sure that the disease-causing microbes are inactivated, but the more disinfectant you add, the more disinfection by- products you get." Some of those chlorinated by-products (e.g. trihalomethanes) have been identified as potential carcinogens.

The UC drinking water center will focus on the three key factors affecting the production of safe drinking water: raw water sources, water treatment methods, and water distribution systems. "This is total system optimization, assessing water quality from source to tap while meeting the various regulations," said Summers. "We have to bring the whole picture in, and that was the main selling point of the institute."

Although the resources of the Drinking Water Optimization Institute will be available to any utility nationwide, Summers expects the biggest impact to be on small water works. "Most large systems can afford to do their own optimization and pay for the research needed which the small systems can't. We see our optimization approach helping many small systems...guiding them through the maze of regulatory requirements."

But Nick Pizzi says even large systems can benefit from the UC research. "Every change you make affects something else. You have to weigh the consequences of everything you do. So, we need researchers who are looking at the various treatment options."

The pilot plant will be originally located in Cincinnati, but its modular design will allow the UC researchers to move it to at least two other locations for additional testing. Summers says that is critical for the project, since raw water sources vary tremendously from one region to another.

University of Cincinnati

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