Environment

Measuring quality of life one sip at a time

UWF to study water quality at Pensacola parks drinking fountains

A water fountain in Sanders Beach Community Center park Friday, August 28, 2015. (Michael Spooneybarger/ Studer Community Institute)

When you or your child work up a sweat at a local park and head for the water fountain for refreshment, have you ever stopped to think about the quality of the water coming out of that public spigot?

Jocelyn Evans has.

Because equal access to safe water in all public areas — including parks — is an important public health measure of the quality of life in a community, Evans, a professor of political science and associate dean of the University of West Florida College of Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, will lead a team of honors students in a study the quality of drinking fountain water at city parks in Pensacola this year.

This study will be a continuation of a project students undertook this spring to rank the best city parks in Pensacola. That study employed methods and criteria developed by Vikas Mehta, scholar of urban/environmental design and associate professor of urbanism at the University of Cincinnati.

The study will cover 53 city parks this spring.

“Answering the question concerning water quality requires water sampling and testing,” Evans said. “I want to do this research because I want students to see the value in various forms of scientific inquiry.”

A water fountain in Olde Seville Square Friday, August 28, 2015. (Michael Spooneybarger/ Studer Community Institute)

A water fountain in Olde Seville Square Friday, August 28, 2015. (Michael Spooneybarger/ Studer Community Institute)

Evans still is setting the testing criteria and hopes to use the Wetlands Research Lab at UWF’s Center for Environmental Diagnostics and Bioremediation to conduct the testing.

The Escambia County Health Department tests water quality only in area beaches and bayous. Those reports can be found here. The health department tests for the presence of enterococcus, a bacteria that comes from human or animal waste.

“We don’t do parks,” said Dr. John Lanza, executive director of the health department.

However, two of those locations — Bayou Texar at Bayview Park and Sanders Beach — are near major city parks.

The cover of the 2015 water quality report from the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority.

The cover of the 2015 water quality report from the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority.

The Emerald Coast Utilities Authority — which provides the water to most of the parks Evans’ students are likely to visit — annually issues a water quality report, outlining the results of its testing on the water supply.

The 2014 report is linked here.

ECUA has 32 wells in its water system. Water testing is done at the well and at points along the distribution system. ECUA spokeswoman Nathalie Bowers said Florida Department of Environmental Protection regulations include testing for more than 60 compounds on a monthly, quarterly, or annual basis.  

“In all, we process approximately 500 analyses per month,” Bowers said.

So far, there are no plans to involve the city when the results are released in spring 2016, but Evans said that is a possibility.

“UWF and the Kugelman Honors Program are very excited about the visibility we have received for this project and would love to see it have a real impact on our local community,” she said. “That has always been the goal.”