THE FLINT, MI, water crisis has amplified the importance of water quality issues for water utilities and their consumers on the national front as well as the criticality of the work of people such as Matt Corson, director of environmental compliance and stewardship for American Water. Corson is responsible for directing the overall environmental compliance and stewardship program across more than 300 drinking water systems and nearly 200 wastewater operations owned or operated under contract by American Water throughout the country. He assists with the overall vision and strategy for American Water, coordinating with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and water industry organizations on national water quality issues and to help shape future drinking water regulations. He credits “strong teams at the state and local level that do the hard work” in helping with that effort.
Corson also educates the public about water quality through an American Water blog, Water Street. Through educating water consumers, Corson seeks to partner with them in the effort to conserve water and protect its quality. In a recent blog regarding lead, Corson points out that American Water takes lead in pipes “very seriously” and he endeavors to educate water consumers about their role in monitoring lead in their own household plumbing and service lines. “Lead is seldom found naturally in source water and is rarely present in water coming from the treatment plants,” he writes, adding that lead gets into water from lead solder used in household plumbing before the 1986 EPA ban, in faucets manufactured before 2014, or in a lead service line extending from the utility’s water main in some older homes. Households on private wells may have similar household plumbing, he adds. Corson has called upon water consumers to flush the taps in their homes, use only cold water for cooking and drinking, routinely clean faucet aerators and screens on a schedule similar to changing smoke detector batteries, follow manufacturer recommendations for replacing water filters in home appliances, and seek lead-free labels when replacing water fixtures.
What He Does Day to Day
In directing American Water’s environmental program, Corson engages in activities that focus on environmental compliance, or “what we need to do to meet the rules and regulations,” and environmental stewardship, or “what do we need to do to protect the environment and the resources upon which we rely,” he says. “I work with a lot of great people both in my office and across American Water on a variety of issues such as compliance sampling. American Water collects and analyzes more than one million water quality samples each year.” Corson’s daily tasks focus on concerns regarding lead, source water protection, backflow protection, emerging contaminants, wastewater, greenhouse gas and climate change, and water conservation. He also reads up on regulations, develops guidance for American Water’s operations, attends meetings, and sits in on internal conference calls as well as those with the EPA and water industry organizations.
What Led Him Into This Line of Work
Corson earned a B.S. degree in chemical engineering from Lehigh University and is a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Delaware. “I went to work for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection in the Bureau of Safe Drinking Water doing operational oversight, which gave me my first taste of the drinking water industry, and then moved to Washington DC, which gave me the broader, national view, which really hooked me,” says Corson of his time as the regulatory affairs manager with the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators. Corson has been employed by American Water for more than 13 years.
What He Likes Best About His Work
“It’s never boring,” says Corson of his occupation. “Drinking water is such a unique industry. When you think about it, our customer ingests our product. That’s putting a lot of trust in us, which makes it really easy to take pride in what you do.”
His Biggest Challenge
“There is always something new and exciting going on, something to challenge you: lead, algal toxins, legionella,” points out Corson. “The bottom line is that my job is to protect public health and the environment, which I find to be extremely worthwhile and rewarding.”