When discussing the quality of both potable and sourced water supplies in Norman, few arguments are more relevant than the ethical dilemma presented therein. That is, in this ever-necessary confrontation between the existence of humans and nature, whether a particular action toward nature can be considered justifiably ‘right’ or condemnable and wrong. A substantial issue with this anthropomorphized dilemma, however, is just that: To its roots, any discussion contemplating right or wrong action toward nature is approached through biased and errored human thought. Therefore, any particular individual can see a similar issue from a completely different perspective. The discussion involving acquiring water in Norman can be approached from multiple perspectives, but the following are particularly insightful. First, it is hard to deny a human interest in protecting the health of all the people so dependent on the vitality of potable water. However, the detrimental aspect to this argument lies within the situation of quality control. Whether the responsibility of maintaining safe conditions for any such environmental impact on human health is with government officials, or independent contractors (most likely instituted by the government), a great deal of money must be spent to ensure nothing less than proper and appropriate conditions exist. In a capitalistic society, however, unfortunate shortcuts frequently entail any path that will permit less expenditure. Furthermore, effects of increasing population and the risks and hazards of potential alternative sources must be considered. Water cannot just be considered in light of here-and-now consumption, but must also be approached with respect to the future. There is no better understanding than that offered in Environment and Society, in which authors Robbins, Hintz, and Moore convey the integral notion that as humans, we must understand the ethics of sustainability, or that “we have a moral obligation to sustain the quality and productivity of the environment for future generations” (191). While applicable to many environmental issues, the acquisition of potable water will undeniably be ever-important. This imperative sense of such ethics will emanate throughout the following discussion.
The effects of unregulated contaminants in the Norman water supply go far beyond just the taste, smell, and feel of the water. Two unregulated contaminants that Norman water particularly has a problem with are chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium) and lead. These two contaminants pose a serious risk to residential health in Cleveland County. Cleveland County’s drinking water currently contains the highest levels of chromium-6 of any other county in the state of Oklahoma. Most of the known health impacts of chromium-6 are related to the inhalation of the chemical, but recently strong data has linked the ingestion of chromium-6 to severe health effects. In reference to the health effects of chromium-6, an article on the Clean Water Action website stated, “In addition to cancer and reproductive harm, short and long-term exposures can lead to eye and respiratory irritation, asthma attacks, nasal ulcers, dermal burns, anemia, acute gastroenteritis, vertigo, gastrointestinal hemorrhage, convulsions, ulcers, and damage or failure of the liver and kidneys.” These possible health effects of chromium-6 display how imperative it is that Cleveland County get these potentially dangerous levels of chromium-6 under control. The EPA has set a maximum contaminant level of 100 ug/l for the total chromium level in drinking water sources. This maximum contaminant level is not for chromium 6 (hexavalent chromium), but for the overall chromium content including all three main types of chromium found in water sources, chromium, chromium 3, and chromium 6.
While the research on the health effects of chromium-6 in drinking water are not confirmed yet, we are certain about the residential health hazards that lead in drinking water can lead to. In the previous blog post, we discussed a study in 2015 that found over 60 water samples that contained lead and copper. The EPA limits the amount of lead in water to 15 micrograms per liter. Norman water barely met this mark and will be monitored by the Department of Environmental Quality every three years. Despite meeting this mark, it is still extremely important to understand the health effects that lead in drinking water can have on a community. Flint, Michigan is a great example of a city that has endured the effects of lead in their drinking water. Thousands of children have been exposed to this toxic substance in Flint, as the water supply is still unsafe to drink. Young children are more vulnerable to experiencing the effects of lead in drinking water because a dose that may not effect an adult may have a significant effect on an infant or a child. Alexandra Ossola from Popular Science states, “When cells in the brain absorb lead, it tends to affect the frontal cortex, the area responsible for abstract thought, planning, attention, and the hippocampus, essential to learning and memory.” This results in behavior and learning problems, lower IQ and hyperactivity, slowed growth, and anemia. Lead is not only harmful to small children and infants, but it can have negative effects on adults as well. Adults exposed to lead may suffer from reproductive issues as well as high blood pressure. Lead is also known to have negative impacts on kidney functions in adults. Exposure to high doses of lead in drinking water have also led to impaired hearing as well as impaired functions of red blood cells. These health effects demonstrate how important it is that Norman continues to eliminate all lead from their water supply.
It’s important to understand that by 2060 the population of Norman will reach approximately 200,000. This is about double the current population according to Hampton. As stated before, Norman gets its water supply from three main sources. Lake Thunderbird provides about 70% of the water supply, 27% comes from the groundwater wells (Garber-Wellington aquifer), and the other 3% comes from Oklahoma City for emergencies. There have been 2040 and 2060 strategic water supply plans that had listed a number of possible water resource alternatives. These alternatives were based on the “…quality, location, storage capacity, yield, cost, policy, etc” (Norman Utilities Authority). For the most part, Norman could use existing sources and consider new regulations and yield. Another option would be to find outside water sources. For example Norman could purchase water in bulk from Oklahoma City. This idea has come into discussion numerous times by the community. One of the main reasons why this plan has been rejected is due to financial reasons. Another option would be to receive bulk raw water from southeastern Oklahoma, Scissortail Reservoir, Kaw Reservoir, and etc. Tom Kovach stated that the plan had the potential to cost millions of dollars and would incorporate a number of legal issues. Other reasons to not go through with the plan was that it wasn’t environmentally sustainable (Cannon).
Although there is clearly a need for Cleveland County to find a cleaner water source, there are also hazards and risks associated with finding and using new sources. In 2014, the city of Norman adopted a plan that involves the reuse of Norman’s wastewater. This process is also known as indirect potable use. In this process, wastewater would be treated for contaminants discussed earlier such as arsenic and chromium-6. After treating the water, it will be re-released into Lake Thunderbird, allowing it to continue to be a source of drinking water for Cleveland County. This plan, however, comes with political opposition. Midwest City, which also sources drinking water from Lake Thunderbird, opposes the plan to reuse wastewater, as it does not want to risk adding “contaminants of emerging concern” to drinking water (Hampton) . Contaminants of emerging concern, according to the EPA, include chemicals that people wash down their drains daily from pharmaceuticals and personal care products. The Midwest City Council fears that treatment centers would not be able to fully discard the water of these unregulated contaminants, risking unknown health issues to residents. Despite disagreements between the cities, the city of Norman continues to claim that the health of its residents is top priority, and that if the plant was not environmentally sound and safe, that they would not move forward.
For now, Norman’s plan for indirect potable reuse is “a decade away from being implemented and would have to be thoroughly vetted first”, according to Norman’s Utilities Director Ken Komiske (Cannon). Norman City Council has a goal to implement indirect potable use by the year 2025, after several tests and studies to ensure safety. This proposed solution to central Oklahoma’s water issues is a great example of the risks and hazards with “the unknown-unknown”, and how as we advance technologically as a society, we open ourselves up to risks from the new technology.
Cannon, Jane. “Norman’s Long-Term Water Solution Relies Heavily on Water Reuse.” NewsOK.
28 June, 2014. Web. Accessed 4 April, 2017.
Hampton, Joy. “Norman Discusses 2060 Strategic Water Supply Plan” Norman Transcript. 7 Mar. 2012. Web. 4 April, 2017.
Norman Utilities Authority. “Planning for Water Reuse” Aug. 2014. Web. Accessed 4 April,
Cannon, Jane. “Norman, Midwest City disagree on viability of water reuse study”. NewsOK. 2
May 2015. http://newsok.com/article/5415662
Hampton, Joy. “Augmentation of Lake Thunderbird with Treated Wastewater is Years Away”. 30
April 2016. Web. Accessed 4 April 2017. http://www.normantranscript.com/news/government/augmentation-of-lake-thunderbird-with-trea
Robbins, Paul, John Hintz, and Sarah A. Moore. “11.” Environment and Society: A Critical
Introduction. 2nd ed. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley Et Sons, 2014. 191. Print.