How to Prepare for the Sanitary Survey

From our friends at, we have learned that our Kentucky Operator Certification Program colleagues have recently posted some very helpful recommendations on how to prepare for a sanitary survey.    Please read on to see how one state promotes sanitary surveys as a benefit to drinking water systems, as a way to help operators do a better job, and to give them much needed tools when they have to ask for funds to keep the system in good running order.  While your state may ask for other items during a sanitary survey, these recommendations are a good plan for any system to follow to make sure that they are well prepared to protect public health.

Some water treatment plant operators are nervous and fearful every day of the dreaded “people from the state” showing up at their facility. A lot of you have learned over the years that the “state” showing up is not necessarily a bad thing. As many operators have become certified and attended continuing education classes, they began to realize that the “state” is not out to get them. They realize that the compliance and regulatory agencies want them to be the best operators they can be, remain good stewards and protect the environment as required by the law.


After working with state agencies, many operators have learned that you no longer have to dread the Sanitary Survey. The Sanitary Survey is an on-site review of the water source, facilities, equipment, operation and maintenance of the public water system. It now covers more than just the technical side of the water system—it also includes a management and financial set of questions.

The purpose of this survey is to assure that the system is operating in compliance, make sure the public has safe drinking water and to point out any deficiencies that may be found in the system. A sanitary survey in Kentucky will list findings in three ways––significant deficiencies, non-significant deficiencies and recommendations. Systems must respond to any deficiency by either correcting the problem or establishing a plan to correct it. Items that are commonly identified in sanitary surveys include out-of-date O&M manuals, not enough certified operators, low-chlorine residuals, no cross-connection plan, missing compliance records and no containment for treatment chemicals.

The survey gives the system personnel an opportunity to improve their knowledge of the system as well as determine if optimization, adjustments or changes are needed in order for the system to perform at its best. The following is an overview of what to expect and should guide a system on how to prepare for the survey.

1. Know your water sources.
Know the advantages, disadvantages, shortfalls and reliability of your own source water.

2. Master the water treatment process.
Know how your treatment process works and the reason that you use the methods, chemicals and procedures. Have process diagrams, basin and filter sizes and other data available on the “concrete and steel” of the system.

3. Master the distribution system.
Know the storage capacity of the distribution tanks and how often water is “turned over” in them.  Be able to explain how pressure booster stations operate.  Have procedures for flushing, boil-water advisories, main breaks and cross connections ready for review.

4. Manage the water supply pumps and pumping facilities.
Know your pump sizes and how they work together. Know the reliability of your equipment. Make sure you have replacement parts, pumps, preventive maintenance and maintenance schedules, as well as knowing the efficiencies and economic impact.

5. Be accurate and current on monitoring, reporting, and data verification.
Always keep good records. Know how long each record should be kept and make sure all analysis is done using an approved method and when it is required. Maintain up-to-date operations and maintenance manuals (for both the plant and distribution system), compliance reports and consumer confidence reports.

6. Be thorough and enforce water-system management and operations programs.
Be sure to have written, applicable and easy-to-follow procedures for all aspects of the system. Train all personnel on the proper way that situations should be handled at the facility. Develop short- and long-range plans and budgets to update or replace equipment and processes so that you are proactive rather than reactive. Develop and maintain good communication with upper management, boards and commissions, so that they understand how their decisions impact water system operation.

7. Assure that all operators are in compliance with state requirements.
There are no substitutions or excuses for noncompliance. Encourage operators to know the rules and regulations, abide by them and not to take shortcuts or chances.

Certified operators are critical to the operation of our water systems. Encourage your operators to attend relevant training, gain the necessary certification level and to excel in the profession.

Another good practice is to have “internal” sanitary surveys or inspections so that system staff can be familiar with the process and address any deficiencies or shortfalls before the regulating agency does its official one. Use this as a quality-control measure to enhance your facility’s quality control.

These are a few things that can prepare a drinking water system for a Sanitary Survey. For more information, click the following link:


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