Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Equipping Operators with Skills to Manage and Overcome Testing Anxiety

We have all experienced it, that feeling of dread and foreboding before taking an exam; a myriad of scenarios running through your head outlining the worst possible outcomes.

These feelings of testing anxiety are very real and can have detrimental effects on an operator’s exam performance. In fact, a recent survey of operators conducted by the Ohio Water Environment Association found that nearly 30 percent of respondents cited testing anxiety as a main cause for not passing the exam.

To examine why testing anxiety is such a prevalent phenomenon, especially in high stakes vocational testing such as an operator certification exam, I spoke with Dr. Ian MacFarlane of Elizabethtown College. Dr. MacFarlane is an Assistant Professor of Psychology, as well as a clinical psychologist. With more than 1,000 hours of therapy work with college students and adults, he has helped countless individuals recognize and overcome testing anxiety.

Why do Operators worry?

Taking a certification exam is different from a high school biology or chemistry final: the stakes are exponentially higher. Psychologically, operators may feel that taking an exam related to their everyday job duties raises a question about their professional competence. This spark of anxiety will be fanned further if a passing score on the exam is mandated for their current job or required for promotion potential.

When asked how test anxiety manifests, Dr. MacFarlane pointed to both cognitive and physical (or somatic) symptoms stating, “The most detrimental effects of anxiety are cognitive. The human brain is limited to a certain amount of processing power at one time. The more your brain is occupied with the anxiety of the exam, the less ability it has to process the exam content. It would be akin to going into a wrestling match with one hand tied behind your back. Anxiety is a ‘mental suck’ or leech draining your brain power and limiting your ability to recall information or facts that might be as familiar to you as the names of your parents.”

One particularly common manifestation of testing anxiety Dr. MacFarlane cited is detachment–an operator is likely to avoid the discomfort of test anxiety by simply not thinking about the exam. Just as your body will pass out instead of coping with a lack of oxygen, you are likely to avoid the discomfort of test anxiety by simply not thinking about the exam.  He noted, “This can be quite detrimental as this avoidance loop can cause you to disengage from exam preparatory practices which can seriously hinder performance on the exam.”

Other effects of anxiety can be seen as physiological symptoms such as nausea, stomach cramps, or lightheadedness. To explain this, Dr. MacFarlane offered, “Our bodies lack the ability to differentiate between real life and mental simulations. So, if we are extremely worried or anxious about something, our minds can create physiological manifestations that are directly associated with the negative mental simulations.”

Why do some operators who excel in their jobs perform poorly on the exam?

Even though the exam is measuring the knowledge and application of tasks that an operator performs daily, while in the testing environment, they lose the contextual cues that would normally assist them in everyday operations.

Without those additional sources of information, operators must work harder to draw parallels between the tasks on the exam and the tasks they perform in their job. In other words, because an operator is not being tested in the environment in which he/she normally performs a task (a water or wastewater system), it can be difficult to recognize and solve the same problem in a test environment.

What can operators do to help with testing anxiety?

Practice, Practice, Practice

There is no better way of reducing test anxiety than to spend an adequate amount of time preparing and practicing. Test-taking is a skill—one that must be practiced and honed. Dr. MacFarlane noted that in many cases, due to inefficient study techniques, people have a tendency to work on areas in which they are already proficient and to avoid areas that could use improvement. Operators should make better use of their study time by taking periodic practice tests to help gauge the areas they need to work on. As an added benefit, the practice tests will train them to work under the pressure of a time constraint. Because the time limit on most certification exams can create a state of panic, it is important that operators learn to perform under these stressors and to control the feelings of unease.

Don’t “cram”

Countless studies have been done over the years on the ineffectiveness of “cramming,” or waiting until the last available opportunity to study for an exam. Say an operator spends the last six hours before the exam reviewing material. It is easy for them to think that they have everything committed to memory; the material is “fresh” in their mind. The reality is that nothing could be further from the truth. Reviewing this way gives an operator a familiarity with the material, meaning he/she will be able to recognize it when they see it on paper. Unfortunately, the ability to recognize concepts is not the same as being able to recall it. The ability to recall or reconstruct information accurately when an operator needs it requires exposure to the information over a long period of time.

The best course of action is to build a study plan that spans the course of several weeks prior to the exam. The more time an operator spends reorganizing the material so it has a structure, the more likely they are to commit the information to long term memory. Operators should aim for 45-60 minutes per day with their study material for at least six weeks prior to the exam.

How can an operator cope with anxiety on test day?

Even the most prepared test-takers can feel anxiety on test day, but there are proven methods to counteract the effects. Operators should start with getting adequate sleep the night before. Studies have shown that people perform better on memory tasks when they are well-rested. Some people will suffer from interrupted sleep when particularly worried about something. To help with this, operators can try exercising for 30 minutes before bed. Doing so will help their bodies release excess cortisol (stress hormone) in their systems caused by anxiety and will allow them to sleep better.

An operator should ensure their body is well nourished the day of the exam. This means do not skip breakfast and eat healthy foods such as grains or fruit and avoid foods with high fat content. The goal here is to eliminate as many distractors as possible so an operator can dedicate all their attention to the exam. If an operator is tired or his/her body does not have enough fuel, it can drastically hinder their performance.

Breathing – The 5-5-7 Method

During the exam, it can be extremely beneficial to stop at regular intervals (perhaps every five questions) and take deep breaths. The 5-5-7 is a breathing exercise performed by inhaling for five seconds, holding your breath for another five seconds, then exhaling for seven seconds. Dr. MacFarlane suggested that completing this exercise at regular intervals during a test session can physiologically stimulate the central nervous system, which can heighten an operator’s awareness and push anxiety from their mind. He also stressed the importance of practicing this technique for several weeks prior to the exam during their preparation, saying “The more practiced you are in this technique, the more effective it will be during exam time. Your body and mind will have a Pavlovian response to the exercise which increases its effectiveness.”

Muscle Relaxation

Another proven technique outlined during our discussion was progressive muscle relaxation, or PMR. This is done by deliberately applying tension (by clenching) to certain muscle groups and then releasing the induced tension. During this process, all of an operator’s attention should be focused on how their muscles feel as the tension is released. As operators learn to distinguish the feelings of a tense muscle as compared to a completely relaxed one, they are able to recognize the physical effects anxiety has on their bodies and can quickly alleviate it with this technique. Operators should be encouraged to practice PMR both when preparing for the exam and on the day of testing. They should spend 15-20 minutes at a time performing this technique on their major muscle groups (feet, legs, hands, arms, neck, and shoulders) and it will help mitigate anxiety.

The Bottom Line

While these methods have been shown to help with anxiety, they may not work for everyone. There are many more techniques that may offer relief, and operators can use these tips as a starting point to find what works best for them. Above all, operators should make sure they spend adequate time studying and reviewing the material. The better command they have of the content, the less anxious they will be about the exam, and the better they will perform.

Tom Healy, Director of Certification Services for The Association of Boards of Certification

Note: This article has been reposted with permission from the author, Tom Healy, Director of Certification Services for The Association of Boards of Certification 

Original article published here: Summer 2021 Arkansas Drinking Water Update.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Trying to Find Your Drinking Water Records? We Can Help!

Are you looking for records for your drinking water system? We have an easy online way to help! Using the instructions below, you will be able to access all of your publicly available drinking water system files. 

  1. On the Drinking Water Information page, open the data table by clicking on the "Water System Search" hyperlink.

  2. Enter the name of the Public Water System into the table. 

  3. Clicking on the PWS ID number takes you to all the online records. 

  4. Scroll down, and there's a list of violations (click Records for violation documents). Below violations are a list of inspection deficiencies and sample results.

We also recommend that you always have up-to-date contact information (e.g., owner, operator, and administrative contact) for your system. This ensures that you receive important updates, reminders, and correspondence from the Department. Using the same website above, you can also check that your Owner and Administrative Contact names, phone numbers, and email address are correct. The website also lists your treatment and distribution system operator. 

If you need to make an update, please use our online Monitoring Plan Wizard and select “Contacts” under the Individual Template Section. Please submit any contact updates using our drinking water portal (this is the preferred method as this ensures the document is submitted and received), by fax at (303) 758-1398, or by hardcopy mail. We cannot accept any contact updates, other documents, or data through email. 

If you have any questions, please contact your compliance specialist. Current drinking water compliance assurance contact information can be determined by county and system type on our website or by navigating to page 4 (CAS Contacts) of the Public Water System table.

  Stephanie Hosie and Amy Schultz, Drinking Water Compliance Assurance Section

Simple Fixes - Chlorine Monitoring with Pocket Colorimeters

Whether you're a large system or small, surface water or groundwater, free chlorine or total, monitoring at the entry point or in the distribution system, water quality monitoring of disinfection residual is an important part of the job. Disinfection residuals are vital to protecting public health and must be reported to the state to show compliance with drinking water regulations. If your go-to monitoring equipment is a Pocket Colorimeter, here are some important things to keep in mind when monitoring chlorine residual.

  1. My pocket colorimeter is flashing “2.2”; what does that mean? Some pocket colorimeters have the option of low range and high range. For chlorine values less than 2.0 mg/L, it’s best to use low range for the greatest accuracy as high range is subject to variable levels of interference. But

    if the instrument consistently reads 2.2 or flashes 2.2, the high range procedure needs to be followed. Using the special high range sample cell, follow the normal steps of zeroing the sample prior to adding the reagent. For Pocket Colorimeters, you’ll add two 10-mL doses of reagent to a 5-mL sample and read. It’s always good practice to review (or re-review) the procedure as a reminder of the proper sequence for analyzing samples.

  2. Have you checked your glassware lately? Dirty glassware can lead to erroneous readings. Hold the glassware up to a white sheet of paper.  Does the glassware look clear or can you see a black film build up? If so, it might be time to purchase some new glassware. You can also try an at home remedy with a 50/50 mix of white vinegar and water. Leave the glassware to soak overnight and rinse out in the morning. Do not use a scrub brush or abrasive cleaning utensil of any kind as that may scratch the glassware.
  3. Free? Total? There’s a difference? There is a difference and you want to make sure you are analyzing for the correct chlorine based on your monitoring schedule.  Free chlorine reagent reacts with free chlorine in the sample, and should be read immediately. Total chlorine reagent reacts with ALL the chlorine present in the sample and requires a 3 minute hold time before reading. If your system uses chloramines or receives water from a chloraminated system, then you need to monitor for TOTAL chlorine. Performing a free chlorine residual reading for a chloramine system, will result in a reading of little to no chlorine. This is because
    most of the free chlorine has bonded with ammonia to produce chloramine. If you operate a free chlorine system and use total chlorine reagent, you won’t see a significant difference, but generally the total will be higher as it has reacted to ALL the chlorine in the sample, and not just the free chlorine. The important thing is to make sure you are using the correct reagent that corresponds to your monitoring schedule.
  4. Is your reagent current? Check expiration dates. Make sure your reagents used for analyzing and reporting residuals to the state are current. A lot of systems out

    there like to use the Swiftest Dispensers. Make sure you know what the expiration date is on the DPD, especially if you’ve acquired the product from a secondary market. 

Aspen Coombs, PE, Senior Field Engineer

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Increasing Threat of Toxic Algae

Scientists predict that climate change will have various effects on freshwater environments. This includes catalyzing harmful algal blooms to occur more often in more water bodies, and to be more intense when combined with nutrient loading. This summer, due to increasing temperatures and drought conditions, we saw harmful algae blooms impact many of our water bodies in Colorado. Harmful algae blooms or toxic algae are made up of cyanobacteria, commonly known as blue-green algae. These types of algae in drinking water sources can cause the water to taste or smell bad. Taste and odor are not regulated under the primary drinking water regulations but certainly can create customer concerns about water quality and safety. In addition to taste and odor problems, toxic algae can create a public health risk when they produce toxins.

This summer, between June and August, the Water Quality Control Division coordinated with local water body managers to test lakes and reservoirs suspected of experiencing toxic algae. The following water bodies had detectable levels of toxins: DeWeese Reservoir, Barr Lake, Sloan's Lake, Pikeview Reservoir, Jumbo Reservoir, Prewitt Reservoir, Jackson Reservoir, Joe Moore Reservoir, Summit Reservoir, Windsor Lake, Milavec Reservoir, Pelican Pond (St Vrain State Park), Smith Reservoir, Willow Creek Reservoir, North Sterling Reservoir. The division is not aware of any treated drinking water having detected toxins. 

The only way to be certain if an algae bloom is toxic is to run specific water tests. The Colorado Laboratory Services Division is one lab that can complete these tests. Removing toxins in a safe and cost-effective way can be a challenge for treatment facilities and not all of them are equipped to do so. Drinking water providers can contact the Water Quality Control Division at 303-692-3500 with questions about toxic algae. We can assist water providers that experience taste and odor problems and toxins. This includes ideas about customer communication and the appropriate steps utilities can take to monitor and manage toxic algae and effectively treat their drinking water. Our toxic algae webpage has resources to help drinking water providers and

recreational water managers with toxic algae monitoring and response.

David Dani, Emerging Contaminants Coordinator

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Federal Update: Key Issues with the Lead and Copper Rule Revisions

As most of you know, on January 15, 2021, the EPA promulgated its final Lead and Copper Rule Revisions (LCRR) with an effective date of March 16, 2021. Then, on June 10, 2021, the EPA signed a final rule extending the effective date of the LCRR to December 16, 2021 to allow for additional engagement and public comment regarding the final rule. Colorado participated in this process via co-regulator meetings with other states and the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators. EPA completed the process of obtaining additional public input and must make a decision by December 16, 2021 as to whether to maintain its final rule as published in January 2021, revise it, repeal the rule and restart from scratch, or move forward with a hybrid of these approaches. If EPA finalizes this rule in December 2021, Colorado will have two years to adopt a rule no less stringent, with a compliance date of October 16, 2024. 

During the course of 2021 EPA has already been sued twice regarding the LCRR. EPA was sued in March by parties that believed the final LCRR published in January was not sufficiently protective. This lawsuit was stayed pending the outcome of the review process that will end in December 2021. EPA was also sued in August by parties that believe the extension process was not legal, and that the final rule must stand as published in 2021. It is uncertain as to how these lawsuits will ultimately play out and whether they will impact the substance or timing of EPA’s finalization of the rule or state’s ability to adopt the LCRR. If there are no legal impacts to the timing, if EPA finalizes this rule in December 2021, Colorado will have two years to adopt a rule no less stringent. 

In general, Colorado is pleased with the efforts that EPA undertook after the draft LCRR was issued as several of our comments, including adding more flexibility regarding how Optimum Corrosion Control Treatment (OCCT) studies can be conducted. There is no way to be sure what items within the final LCRR EPA may consider adjusting, but we believe some of those items likely involve the following:

  • Increasing the proposed 3% Lead Service Line Removal (LSLR) rate after an action level exceedance.
  • Not allowing LSLR to stop, once it begins even if lead levels decrease below the action level. 
  • How components like pigtails, galvanized pipes, etc. fit into the definition of lead service lines for inventory and removal purposes.
  • Sampling procedures including utilizing an approach that would involve evaluating both first draw and 5th-liter samples.
  • Simplifying the “find-and-fix” process, especially for non-LSL sample sites.
  • Altering the small system flexibility and not allowing avoidance of OCCT for 15 years while an LSLR program is implemented. Providing filters is one option that may be added to the rule.  

Colorado has continued to urge EPA to allow for alternative OCCT options considering our experience with the Denver Water variance. Colorado believes water systems should be allowed an alternative if corrosion control treatment is applied, LSL replacement is expedited above required LSL replacement rates, pitcher filters are provided to all customers with LSLs, and the system implements an extensive public outreach and education campaign.

Of course Colorado supports being able to implement a rule that can help improve health protection and reduce lead exposure, especially for children. Beyond the specific content of the rule, we remain concerned about the technical and financial resources needed for water utilities and states to comply with the LCRR. Due to the complexities of multiple handoffs, reviews, sample site changes, and new tracking and reporting requirements, we will all need to work hard to develop needed guidance, tools, and clarifications to implement the LCRR. Once we have a final LCRR, we will begin to plan our stakeholder process to adopt the rule plus develop supporting policies and guidance. 

➽  Ron Falco, P.E. Safe Drinking Water Program Manager

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

CDPHE Pueblo Office Move

CDPHE’s Pueblo team is moving at the end of September 2021.The CDPHE Pueblo office includes three field inspectors from the Water Quality Control Division Field Service Section, as well as, Health Facilities inspectors and a HIV/STI field representative. Since 2014, CDPHE has leased space on the riverwalk in the historic police station building. The WQCD Pueblo field inspectors have been conducting in-person field based sanitary surveys and cleanwater Compliance Evaluation Inspections (CEIs) since May 2020 using a COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedure to protect operators and staff. 

At the end of September 2021, CDPHE will begin sharing office space with the Division of Water Resources Division 2 office in Pueblo. This move allows for increased coordination between the Water Quality Control Division and the Division of Water Resources Division 2 team while optimizing state funding resources. 

The new address for the CDPHE Pueblo Office is:

310 East Abriendo Ave. Suite B Pueblo, CO 81004

CDPHE WQCD is proud to provide technical services to the southern region. Please continue to reach out to the Pueblo field inspectors for assistance with sanitary surveys, CEIs and technical assistance. The Pueblo field inspectors and manager are:

Paul Hanson, PE

Monique Morey, PE

Tammy Bruning, CWP

Cameron Wilkins, PE

Field Unit II manager - Salida Office

Heather Young, WQCD Field Services Section Manager & Cameron Wilkins, WQCD Field Unit II Manager

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Design Criteria Update Project: 2021 - 2022

Design criteria update project starting this fall!

The Design Criteria for Potable Water Systems (Safe Drinking Water Program Policy 5) serves as a key policy document for the department to make decisions on approval of new designs for water sources, treatment, and storage facilities. The document also serves as a guideline for repairing or upgrading waterworks that are cited as significant deficiencies during the department’s sanitary surveys. While systems are not required to modify their waterworks to meet the design criteria unless their current water works are deficient, they are required to consider the criteria as acceptable fixes whenever their current waterworks are found to be deficient. 

The department intends to update the document regularly, approximately every 4 years with input from stakeholders. To assist with updates, we keep a running list of errors and enhancements. The last update was in 2017. The department is initiating a criteria update project in the fall of 2021 to be completed in 2022. The Department has identified the following three key areas of focus for this project but is open to other stakeholder recommendations:

  1. Updates of known errors and enhancements since 2017 - including such items as wetwells at pump stations being considered finished water storage, typos, etc.
  2. Updates to sections that pertain to corrosion control and the lead and copper rule.
  3. Addition of sections pertaining to direct potable reuse and criteria for pertinent treatment processes (e.g. advanced oxidation, ozone/biological filtration, adsorption, etc)

The department will collect initial stakeholder feedback on potential design criteria modifications in September and early October 2021. After collecting initial stakeholder input, the department will host a stakeholder meeting to discuss the identified items and the form of workgroups as needed. The workgroups will meet during Fall 2021 and Winter 2022. In Winter 2022, the division intends to host a second stakeholder meeting to discuss the workgroup outcomes and present the draft design criteria. 

The department encourages stakeholders to participate as they are able to ensure we have the best design criteria policy we can. To participate in the stakeholder process, please sign up to receive notices. To provide ideas or feedback on how the design criteria could be updated, please use this google form no later than Thursday, September 30, 2021.

For more information, please contact Melanie Criswell at 720-383-7138 or

Melanie Criswell, Corrosion Control Engineer