Drinking Water Drinking Water Legislation

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Almost any legislation concerning water affects drinking water, either directly or indirectly. The following pieces of legislation are aimed specifically at providing safe drinking water for the nation's residents.

safe drinking water act of 1974. The SDWA mandated that the EPA establish and enforce minimum national drinking water standards for all public water systems—community and noncommunity—in the United States. The law also required the EPA to develop guidelines for water treatment and to set testing, monitoring, and reporting requirements.

To address pollution of surface water supplies to public systems, the EPA established a permit system requiring any facility that discharges contaminants directly into surface waters (lakes and rivers) to apply for a permit to discharge a set amount of materials—and that amount only. It also created groundwater regulations to govern underground injection of wastes.

Congress intended that, after the EPA had set regulatory standards, each state or U.S. territory would run its own drinking water program. The EPA established the Primary Drinking Water Standards by setting maximum containment levels (MCLs) for contaminants known to be detrimental to human health. All public water systems in the United States are required to meet primary standards. Secondary standards cover non-health-threatening aspects of drinking water such as odor, taste, staining properties, and color. Secondary standards are recommended but not required.

1986 amendments to the safe drinking water act. The 1986 amendments to the SDWA required that the EPA set MCLs for an additional fifty-three contaminants by June 1989, twenty-five more by 1991, and twenty-five every three years thereafter. The amendments also required the EPA to issue a maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) along with each MCL. An MCLG is a health goal equal to the maximum level of a pollutant not expected to cause any health problems over a lifetime of exposure. The EPA is mandated by law to set MCLs as close to MCLGs as technology and economics will permit.

The 1986 amendments banned the use of lead pipe and lead solder in new public drinking water systems and in the repair of existing systems. In addition, the EPA had to specify criteria for filtration of surface water supplies and to set standards for disinfection of all surface and groundwater supplies. The EPA was required to take enforcement action, including filing civil suits against violators of drinking water standards, even in states granted primacy if those states did not adequately enforce regulations. Violators became subject to fines up to $25,000 daily until violations were corrected.

water quality control act of 1987. Section 304 (1) of the revised Clean Water Act of 1987 (PL 100-4) determines the state of the nation's water quality and reviews the effectiveness of the EPA's regulatory programs designed to protect and improve that water quality. Section 308—known as the Water Quality Control Act— requires that the administrator of the EPA report annually to Congress on the effectiveness of the water quality improvement program.

The main purpose of the Water Quality Control Act is to identify water sources that need to be brought up to minimum standards and to establish more stringent controls where needed. States are now required to develop lists of contaminated waters as well as lists of the sources and amounts of pollutants causing toxic problems. In addition, each state is required to develop ''individual control strategies'' for dealing with these pollutants.

lead contamination control act of 1988. The Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988 (PL 100-572) strengthened the controls on lead contamination set out in the 1986 amendments to the SDWA. It requires the EPA to provide guidance to states and localities in testing for and remedying lead contamination in drinking water in schools and day care centers. The act also contains requirements for the testing, recall, repair, and/or replacement of water coolers with lead-lined storage tanks or parts containing lead. It attaches civil and criminal penalties to the manufacture and sale of water coolers containing lead.

The ban on lead states that plumbing must be lead-free. In addition, each public water system must identify and notify anyone whose drinking water may be contaminated with lead, and the states must enforce the lead ban through plumbing codes and the public-notice requirement. The federal government gave the EPA the power to enforce the lead ban law by authorizing the agency to withhold up to 5% of federal grant funds to any state that does not comply with the new rulings.

reinventing drinking water law—1996 amendments to the safe drinking water act. In 1996 Congress passed a number of significant amendments (PL 104-182) to the SDWA. The law changed the relationship between the federal government and the states in administering drinking water programs, giving states greater flexibility and more responsibility.

The centerpiece of the law is the State Revolving Fund (SRF), a mechanism for providing low-cost financial aid to local water systems to build the treatment plants necessary to meet state and federal drinking water standards. The law also requires states to train and certify operators of drinking water systems. If they do not, states risk losing up to 20% of their federal grants. The law requires states to approve the operation of any new water supply system, making sure it complies with the technical, managerial, and financial requirements. The 1996 SDWA gives the EPA discretion in regulating only those contaminants that may be harmful to health, and it requires the EPA to select at least five contaminants every five years for consideration for new standards. A further change is that the EPA, when proposing a regulation, now must determine—and publish— whether or not the benefits of a new standard justify the costs.

Furthermore, the law affirms Americans' ''right to know'' the quality of their drinking water and mandates notification. Water suppliers must promptly (within twenty-four hours) alert consumers if water becomes contaminated by something that can cause illness and must advise as to what precautions can be taken. In 1998 states began to compile information about individual systems, which the EPA now summarizes in an annual compliance report. As of October 1999 water systems have been required to make that data available to the public. Large suppliers have to mail their annual safety reports to customers, while smaller systems can post the reports in a central location or publish it in a local newspaper. (Information on individual water systems is available on the EPA Web site at http://www.epa.gov.)

In 1996 Congress directed the EPA to issue a new standard for arsenic in drinking water by January 1, 2001. The existing standard at that time was fifty parts per billion (ppb). The EPA proposed a standard of five ppb in June 2000. However, this was too late to resolve scientific and public debate about the new standard in time to meet the January 1 deadline, so Congress extended the deadline. A new standard of ten ppb became effective in February 2002, but public water systems were given until January 2006 to meet it.

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