General introduction

The issue of access to potable water is becoming more and more worrying on a world scale. The population of the Earth continues to grow fast, especially in developing countries, while water resources, particularly those suitable for drinking purposes, are undergoing rapid depletion (Petrella, 2001). At the same time, other, traditional, challenging issues related to drinking water supply are swiftly gaining topicality and acuity. These challenges bear on the necessity to maintain and, whenever possible, to improve the quality of raw waters from the source to the ultimate consumer’s tap. All stakeholders of the drinking water industry work unceasingly towards that objective, through new, state-of-the-art equipments, technologies, as well as scientific knowledge. And that process is widely supported and encouraged by national governments and international institutions (e.g., United Nations development agencies) through granting of funds and enactment of standards and (or) regulations.

As scientific knowledge is advancing, the drinking water standards and (or) regulations are getting stringent. This enhances the responsibility of drinking water utility managers. Large and medium-size utilities, having sufficient financial and technical resources at their disposal, generally take up the challenge by acquiring new equipments and (or) embracing new technologies. But small utilities, often lacking adequate financial, technical, and managerial capacity (USEPA 1999), cannot follow the beat, especially with present-day very rapidly evolving and getting outdated water treatment processes.

One of the most important challenges in contemporary drinking water treatment and supply relates to ensuring adequate simultaneous micro-organism inactivation in the plant and control in the distribution system while minimizing the formation of potentially carcinogenic disinfection by-products (DBPs) such as trihalomethanes (THMs) (Fowle and Kopfler 1986; Putnam and Graham 1993). Large and medium-size utilities often easily resolve the problem by applying relatively sophisticated treatment processes varying from conventional treatment (i.e., coagulation, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, post-disinfection) to membrane technologies involving nanofiltration or ultrafiltration. Moreover, only large utilities are normally capable of using very powerful oxidants like ozone (O3), hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and chlorine dioxide (ClO2) that require very qualified personnel for appropriate handling as well as sophisticated equipments and processes to be produced. For small utilities however, the challenge of simultaneously ensuring adequate micro-organism inactivation and DBP control can turn out to be truly overwhelming, especially for utilities serving surface waters with no other treatment than chlorination.

In North America, small drinking water utilities (i.e., those serving 10,000 or fewer people) are known to experience much more difficulty than larger utilities to serve water that constantly corresponds the established quality standards (AWWA 2000). In the province of Quebec (Canada), small utilities have been found to be those most frequently violating drinking water regulations (Gouvernement du Québec, 1997). Adding to this already complicated situation, new Quebec Drinking Water Regulations (QDWR) (Gouvernement du Québec, 2001), brought big new challenges for small utility managers, since new requirements or stringent standards are considered for turbidity of water, micro-organism inactivation (virus, Giardia and Cryptosporidium), bacterial monitoring, minimum levels of residual chlorine and maximum annual average THM levels in the distribution systems.

The main objective of this research is to explore ways and means that may allow small Quebec drinking water utilities to acquire the capacity to constantly serve, on the long-term basis, water of irreproachable quality to their customers. This main objective resulted in three specific objectives, which are: 1) drawing an overall state-of-situation picture of drinking water quality and management strategies in small Quebec utilities; 2) conducting an in-depth study of current distributed water quality in a limited number of those utilities; and 3) investigating the impact of utility operational, as well as infrastructure and maintenance characteristics on the current distributed water quality, through development of indicators of performance for small utilities. This specific objective also includes parallel exploration of the impact of human and organizational factors relating to the principal utility manager on historically distributed water quality.

In the past, very few studies have been done on these questions, particularly for small utilities. Moreover, the multi-disciplinary nature of the study (encompassing technical, as well as physical planning and human aspects) confers it a particular stamp. Therefore, although this research can be considered a case study exclusively conducted in Quebec, its results may be useful for utility managers and government bodies in many other areas around the world.

General references

AWWA. 2000. Disinfection at small systems. AWWA Water Quality Division Disinfection Systems Committee report. J. Am. Water Works Assoc. 92:24–31.

Druckrey, H. 1968. Chlorientes Trinkwasser, Toxizitäts-Prüfungen an Ratten über sieben Generationen . Food Cosmet. Toxicol. 6: 147-154.

Fowle III, J.R., and Kopfler, F.C. 1986. Water disinfection : microbes versus molecules – an introduction of issues. Environmental Health Perspectives 69: 3–6.

Gouvernement du Québec. 1997. L’eau potable au Québec, un second bilan de sa qualité : 1989–1994. Ministère de l’Environnement et de la Faune, Québec, 36 p.

Gouvernement du Québec. 2001. Règlement sur la qualité de l’eau potable. Ministère de l’Environnement, Québec, 19 p.

Petrella, R. 2001 . The water manifesto: arguments for a world water contract. London : Zed Books ; Halifax, N.S. : Fernwood publishing.

Putnam, W.S., and Graham, J.D. 1993. Chemicals versus microbials in drinking water: a decision sciences perspective. J. Am. Water Works Assoc. 85: 57–61.

USEPA. 1999. Handbook for capacity development: developing water system capacity under the Safe Drinking Water Act as amended in 1996. United States Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water (4606), EPA 816-R-99-012.