It doesn't take much to pollute groundwater, says water quality expert Ann Lemley. Her new program promotes a better understanding of risks and prevention methods for small water suppliers in New York areas not served by community water systems.
The Washington County Fair began innocuously enough last August as the area's social event of the year. Then came reports of headaches, fever, and diarrhea. By late September, a three-year-old girl and a seventy-nine-year-old man had died, and more than 1,000 people were sickened.
The culprit was the lethal 0157:H7 strain of E. coli bacteria, contracted after fair-goers drank water at the event in Greenwich, New York, almost 40 miles north of Albany. Some authorities tagged it as one of the worst E. coli bouts in the nation's history.
Questions were raised as to who was to blame and how the disaster could have been prevented. According to Ann Lemley, director of the Water Quality Extension Program at Cornell, even when water suppliers follow all the rules, problems can still occur.
In partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension educators throughout New York State, Lemley develops pollution prevention programs for homeowners, renters, and property owners to help promote better understanding of water quality risks and the best prevention methods. Recently, Lemley and extension associate Katrie DiTella were approached by Deb Grantham, an extension associate with the Cornell Land and Water Management Extension Program, to explore combining a watershed perspective and remote sensing techniques with their pollution prevention program to provide small--water system operators, perhaps including fair organizers, with water resources education.
The new project is an extension of Home *A* Syst (for "home assessment system"), a national program started in 1997 to help homeowners, renters, and property owners evaluate their own residences for pollution and health risks. The centerpiece of Home *A* Syst is a 116-page booklet that includes tips, information, and checklists on various environmental topics: protecting water quality; managing hazardous household products; minimizing lead; managing gas, oil, and other fuels; improving air quality; saving energy; and controlling household waste. By working with Cornell Cooperative Extension educators, Lemley and DiTella, who is the New York State Home *A* Syst coordinator, have delivered the program to individuals through workshops in several New York State counties.
"We were going strong with Home *A* Syst," says Lemley, a professor in the department of textiles and apparel, "but we thought that we should include another group of water operators--people who run what are called non-community water supplies."
The United States has a wide variety of private and public water supplies. Many public water supplies are considered community because they are run by municipalities that treat and use surface water or groundwater. But New York State is home to about 3 million residents, mostly in rural areas, who rely on groundwater from wells and springs to supply their own drinking water. In addition, the state has around 6,854 non-community water systems, and another 1,735 small water systems that serve mobile home parks, apartment complexes, and permanent residential institutions. According to rules outlined by the New York State Department of Health, a non-community water system has at least five service connections or regularly serves an average of at least 25 people daily for at least 60 days a year.
Whereas Home*A*Syst serves private citizens, non-community water suppliers and small water system operators would be the audience for the adapted education program. County fair organizers, for example, could fall into the non-community water supplier category.
Using the risk reduction approach that has been successful in Home*A*Syst, the new program would assist non-community water suppliers in assessing their property and identifying problems. …