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New weather, old pipes challenge nation's water supply

SAN FRANCISCO -- The difficult separation of drinking water and sewage may face more challenges than its aging infrastructure can withstand as unpredictable weather conditions produce floods that beset the nation, a Michigan State University water expert says.

The nation needs better ways to monitor the safety of drinking water, Joan Rose, MSU's Nowlin Chair in water research, told the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting Friday. Her talk, "Drinking Water and Health: Forecasting Pathogen Risks in the Great Lakes," focused on ways to identify health threats before an outbreak.

"Outbreaks of waterborne illness are like the plane crashes of the water industry," Rose said. "They're the big events that get people's attention. But there are other things going on. Beneath the big outbreak, we could have 5 percent of people getting sick and it wouldn't even be reported. It can be below our radar screen but a sign of trouble.

"We don't have time just to wait for the plane crashes, because our infrastructure is going to take a long time to fix. We need to pay attention to our infrastructure, and were not doing it."

Rose's Great Lakes work is part of a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration effort to develop forecasts of water quality problems for lakes, rivers and streams. She said much of her Great Lakes work is focused on a water resources system that puts its faith more in water treatment than watershed protection for providing safe water. Focusing solely on treatment, she says, puts the water systems in peril from both overwhelming weather events and contaminants that resist conventional treatment.

The recipe for disaster is there, including intake points for drinking water are not consistently shielded from the sewage that periodically spills into surface waters; there is inadequate monitoring of the rivers, lakes and streams that provide drinking water and the quality of the t
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Contact: Joan Rose
rosejo@msu.edu
517-432-4412
Michigan State University
16-Feb-2007


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