Protecting Public Health

 

Hands Across the Hallway: Partnerships Protect Public Health

A leading national example of partnerships between health departments and drinking water utilities and other public health stakeholders is the Milwaukee Inter-Agency Clean Water Advisory Council (IACWAC). The group was endorsed by Milwaukee Common Council legislation in 1994 and charged with the overall coordination of water quality issues in the community.

The IACWAC was highlighted in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) publication, "Security Information Collaboratives: A Guide for Water Utilities." (http://www.epa.gov) The multi-agency team approach to water and public health issues was found to be highly relevant to managing security concerns involving both water and public health, such as possible contamination of a public water system.

The council had its beginnings when a Milwaukee Water Works (MWW)/Health Department Technical Committee was formed as an interdisciplinary work group of professionals to exchange information, foster communications, provide technical support, discuss water quality issues, and evaluate impacts to the public served by the Water Works.

Most importantly, the committee serves as an idea incubator and discussion forum that has produced an early warning disease surveillance network and procedures to notify the public and respond in the event of a contamination or disease outbreak. The team developed new methods of analyzing risk for illness-causing microorganisms and viruses. Discussions by this group led to the formation of the Southeastern Wisconsin Beach Task Force. The task force coordinates research and education efforts of state and local agencies and community organizations to solve the problem of beach closings in southeastern Wisconsin.

The committee also provides recommendations to the IACWAC in the areas of water treatment process and system operation, and source water impact and influences. In addition to MWW and the Health Department, the group includes representatives from the Milwaukee Department of Public Works (DPW) Administration and Environmental Sections, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District, and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

The council has expanded the knowledge base of members and fostered a spirit of cooperation between the agencies involved, all to the benefit of public health.