According to a bureaucrat in Tennessee, you might be if you ever complain about your municipal/community water.

Brian Haas of the Tennessean broke a very interesting story about a “town-hall” discussion where concerned citizens and civic action groups met with legislators and TDEC employees. During the Q&A session, Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources was apparently recorded to say  “We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously… you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.”

In our new era of fear, where we see terrorists under every rock and behind every blade of glass, it is easy for laws and regulations to be abused in “righteous zeal”.

So, is it a terroristic threat to complain about your water quality, even if it meets MINIMUM standards? – No, not at all. What IS a terroristic threat is to cause chaos/panic etc… by deliberately making wild unfounded, false claims about a community water supply.

For example, if someone doesn’t like the taste of their community tap water, they are quite entitled to complain (publicly and vociferously) about the problem (even if it isn’t a “real” problem). However, if the same person were trying to weaken or undermine the “community order” by claiming community water is unsafe to drink, then they could quite possibly  be accused of “terroristic threats”.

The tough question here is HOW one determines the intent of a complaint. Was the real Erin Brockovich a terrorist for telling people not to drink the water in Hinckley, CA? If it were up to this Tennessee bureaucrat’s interpretation of Federal law, then she might possibly be…  To quote Shakespeare: “There’s the rub”. It is a very slippery slope to allow bureaucrats to terrorize their community into compliance (or just to shut up) by not allowing them to complain about the quality of service delivered that they PAY for via taxes, levies, or fees.

It is a very difficult task to provide high quality water to a community. There are constantly changing dynamics in influent water quality chemistry and contaminants, infrastructure wears out, and the customer base is constantly growing. Add to that, tax revenue is generally depressed, and people still continue to take the true value of clean/safe drinking water for granted in the United States.


Making terrorists out of people who are genuinely concerned about their community water quality is foolish and wrong. Are the people who don’t want fluoride in their drinking water terrorists now, because they tell people that they think fluoridation is bad? – where will this end?

The biggest problem is that less than 3% of most community water produced is used inside homes, with an projected average of less than 1% being actually consumed by people and pets. Why on earth are we cleaning ALL of the water to “safe standards”? It is time to more seriously incorporate layers of treatment. Watering the lawn with drinking water is foolish!  Public utility managers have to clean ALL of their delivered water with limited budgets, when they really could produce primary and secondary supplies. Some innovative communities are already doing this and it works very well. Primary for people, and secondary for plants – nice and simple.

Separating delivered water into layers will free-up resources and allow for more intelligent water usage. When consumers want to clean their water above and beyond the delivered level of quality, they simply filter/condition, or purify with appropriate technologies. This is no different that the seemingly never-ending conflict between some people at the city level and those at the POE/POU treatment level over the quality of water currently delivered to homes, and businesses. Silly salespeople from the Water Quality side of the fence malign the public utility complaining about “dirty utility water” or highlighting how the city has “failed consumers” by not purifying or softening every single drop of water out of the plant, which of course offends them and then they respond with silly statements like “our water is fine”, “it’s clean enough”, “don’t believe the filter salesperson” etc… when should all just work together to provide our customers with the quality of water that they want and can afford. Every individual has the right to choosing their own quality of water, just as we are entitled to our own quality of  food/transportation/accommodation etc… Some of us are happy with the bare minimum and some of us want something better.

I truly hope that level heads prevail as we continue along in our “Post 9/11” world of manufactured fear.