Since the news broke about the water quality in Flint, Michigan, agencies and schools are on a mission to test their water for lead and other poisonous contaminants that may reside in their aging water infrastructures. The school districts in Newark, New Jersey and the New York Housing Authority are two high profile examples of the Flint fallout.

The problem extends well beyond Flint, as reported by USA Today: “An analysis of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data showed about 350 schools and day-care centers failed lead tests a total of about 470 times from 2012 through 2015.”

Lead exposure in schools, daycares

The analysis only accounts for about 10% of schools and a “tiny fraction” of day cares across the US. The EPA says that about 90,000 public schools and half a million day cares are not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act because they depend on water sources such as municipal utilities expected to test their own water.

Because of the high cost, the long-term investment to fix and replace entire infrastructures isn’t always fully examined until a crisis emerges. And by then the damage is extensive and trust in public authority is diminished. Short-term solutions to address lead and other heavy metal contamination in water systems, such as adding chemicals to the water or switching water sources, are a cheaper, but not always effective means to solve water quality problems.

Too often, ongoing fiscal pressures can drive public officials to focus on short-term savings rather than long-term priorities. The cost of fixing Flint's troubled water system will be far greater than the savings that were imagined from switching the city's water source … And the human cost to the children affected by high levels of lead in their drinking water will not be known for decades.

Elizabeth K. Kellar, Governing

How to Find Water Infrastructure Contracts with Onvia

According to Onvia’s database of bids and RFPs, many agencies aren’t necessarily embarking on full replacement projects just yet, but there is increased activity in the number of projects relating to water quality, testing and pipe inspections for high levels of lead. Vendors who specialize in water treatment and inspection services can find hundreds of opportunities. A few recent examples from Onvia include:

Water infrastructure project examples - Onvia

Vendors can also utilize Onvia to track current contracts so they can find out which agencies have ongoing projects, which of their competitors hold the contracts and the contract values. With each contract listed, Onvia automatically provides key agency contact information so vendors can quickly and easily contact the right people at the agencies, establish relationships with them, and be in a position to win the contracts when they come up for renewal. Here are a few examples of current contracts:

Water infrastructure project examples - Onvia

In Onvia’s database, there is clear evidence that agencies will proactively replace lead pipes when they are present in bigger water and construction projects. How can vendors find this information? Each project provided by Onvia is coupled with bid or RFP documents and specifications provided by the agency. This documentation provides vendors with easy to find details, such as the replacement of lead pipes, in any agency initiative. One example is the water main project in the City of Mt Pleasant in Michigan:

Water main project example - Onvia

Though expensive, the removal of all 7 million lead service lines in use nationwide should be a top priority, according to the EPA National Drinking Water Advisory Council. “That’s a big change from current regulations, which only require utilities to replace those lines if testing shows high levels of lead and other methods of reducing those levels -- like anti-corrosion treatments -- don’t work,” wrote Daniel C. Vock in Governing.

With growing concern for the nation’s water quality, the serious ramifications of lead in the water and increased pressure to replace all lead pipes, vendors that specialize in water treatment, inspection and pipe replacement should look to Onvia as a source of opportunity for current and future business that will make the water supply in every jurisdiction safer to use.

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