From the source to the tap: Louisville Water Company researcher spills origins of city’s water quality

By Wesley Kerrick–

The Louisville Water Company Crescent Hill Treatment Plant’s reservoir contains the water that is distributed to a number of locations in Metro Louisville.

Louisville drinks water that comes from the dirty Ohio River, but it is purified through an elaborate process. On March 19, students who gathered in the Vogt building at 7:30 p.m. learned about this process from Eric Zhu, research director at Louisville Water Company.

Holding a soft drink cup and clicking though his PowerPoint presentation, Zhu delivered an overview of water treatment to the 15 students who sat along two tables, finishing their pizza.

“We have to abide by a lot of regulations,” he said. Amid increasingly higher expectations from the company’s 900,000 customers, ensuring water quality is no simple task. Preventing health risks is vital. Taste, color or odor cannot be compromised, because perceived risks harm public trust.

Louisville Water’s hard work has paid off. In 2008, the company won an award for “best tasting tap water in America” from the American Water Works Association.
Justin Mog, assistant to the provost for sustainability initiatives, also attended the presentation. “I’m a homeowner, so I’m a Louisville Water Company customer,” he said afterward. “Coming here and hearing the full story gave me even more confidence in our tap water.”

As the Ohio flows toward Louisville, the company tests it at Westport and Goshen for pesticides and herbicides, and gears up its plants to treat it accordingly. From its plants in Prospect and Crescent Hill, Louisville Water distributes its “pure tap” water through 4,200 miles of pipeline. The company also assesses large commercial users to prevent backflow into the system.

Zhu is in charge of treatment research at Louisville Water. More research needs to be done, he said, and U of L students from diverse majors should get involved.
With such good water, Mog said it is puzzling why so many students still purchase bottled water.

Ironically, Zhu said bottled water often just comes from a tap somewhere else. “The original source of tap water may not be as good as our water.” So whether bottled water is better depends on the source. “Of course we want to say, our water is better.”

However, water from the plant has a “shelf life,” Zhu put it, in the time between the plant and the faucet.

Junior geography major Brian Deis is pursuing a career that will involve water quality work. In the question-and-answer session following Zhu’s talk, Deis asked him how the quality he gets at his own tap compares to water quality upon first leaving the plant.

“The further from the treatment plant,” Zhu said, “the water could degrade slightly.”

Deis said he attended the presentation because he is curious about how the water system works in Louisville. “I wanted to really get to know it a lot better.” He said the maps and images Zhu showed helped answer his questions.

The event was hosted by Engineers Without Borders, a student organization that develops projects and seeks to improve the quality of life for communities worldwide.

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Photo by Austin Lassell/The Louisville Cardinal

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