Safe Drinking Water Act

Modernizing Access to Environmental Data

Do you use our Enforcement and Compliance History Online database?

If you do, then you may already know about our yearlong modernization effort to make it one of the most robust government data tools in the world. If you don’t, then now is a good time to try it out. Recognized by President Obama as an exemplary federal agency data tool, ECHO houses environmental compliance information on more than 800,000 facilities nationwide. More than 2 million visitors checked it out last year.

Today I’m excited to report that we’ve just added air pollution data from our various reporting programs, known as the Air Pollutant Report. When you run a facility search, ECHO now lets you view and compare air data from our National Emissions Inventory, Toxic Release Inventory, Greenhouse Gas Reporting Tool and Acid Rain Program—along with facility compliance information—on a single, easy-to-use web page. Previously, in order to see the air pollution emissions for a given facility, you would have to search for it on four different websites and combine the data yourself. Now all of that information is presented on a single facility specific report.

NewScreenShotThis upgrade is a big boost for public transparency giving citizens, industry and government agencies an easy way to spot problems so they can play an active role in environmental protection. The Air Pollutant Report is currently in “beta” phase, and so we need your feedback on the design and contents of the tool. Adding air pollution data to ECHO is just one of many important upgrades we’ve made this year. Here are some of the others:

  • Last month, we launched a new dashboard that allows users to search for information on facility compliance with pesticide regulations.
  • In April, we launched a Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) dashboard, a user-friendly tool that presents data about violations and the compliance status of public water systems. Popular Clean Water Act data sets were reposted to ECHO last summer, making it easier to find data about water violations and inspections.
  • A new mapping feature displaying the compliance status of EPA-regulated facilities lets users create customized maps using current data.
  • ECHO now allows users to search which facilities have reported Risk Management Plans required under the Clean Air Act.
  • In the spirit of the White House’s Digital Government Strategy, ECHO’s new technology also provides web services, widgets and other features allowing web developers to incorporate data and reports into their own websites.

In addition to all of these improvements, data in ECHO is now refreshed on a weekly basis, giving you more up to date information, often only a matter of days after we receive it from the states.

We’ve made remarkable strides in our effort to make environmental data accessible and easy to use. With greater access to information, you can be better informed about what’s happening in your community, which supports engagement and participation at every level of government.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Protecting Your Drinking Water for 40 Years

By Ken Kopocis

Crossposted from EPA Connect

As I traveled across the country this year, there’s one thing I could count on everywhere I went: tap water that’s safe to drink. Drinking water is essential for healthy families, thriving communities, and strong local economies. And this month we’re proud to celebrate an important milestone as December 16, 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

We’ve made incredible progress in improving drinking water safety over the past 40 years. Before Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, EPA lacked the authority and the funding to ensure safe drinking water, and over 40% of our nation’s drinking water systems failed to meet even the basic health standards in place at the time.

Today, we almost take safe drinking water for granted. The Safe Drinking Water Act has been such a success that we sometimes lose sight of how far we’ve come. Americans drink over 1 billion glasses of tap water every day. We enjoy the cleanest drinking water in the world, with more than 90 percent of Americans receiving water that meets all standards, all the time.

We owe that accomplishment to this incredible law, and to the dedicated work of water professionals at the federal, state, and local level. Clean, reliable water is the foundation of what makes America great. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy.

But we face new and legacy challenges to providing safe drinking water. Just this past year, the water sector struggled with the effects of a changing climate. Climate impacts hit the water sector first, with warmer temperatures, stronger storms, more extreme droughts, and changes to water chemistry.

We’ve also seen stark reminders this year that our drinking water supplies are still vulnerable. In January, a chemical spill upstream of the Charleston, WV, drinking water intake contaminated the drinking water supply for five days. Governor Tomblin estimated the spill cost the state over $70 million. And in August, algae in Lake Erie produced a toxin that made it into Toledo’s water supply. Local business came to a standstill and nearly half a million people were left without safe drinking water for two days.

These events make clear that we need to do more to protect our nation’s drinking water at the source. EPA will continue to coordinate efforts with partners like the Source Water Collaborative, made up of 25 national organizations dedicated to protecting our nation’s drinking water. The Collaborative has launched a Call to Action—asking utilities, states, federal agencies, and local governments to step up to protect source water. I encourage all of us to act.

Utilities can partner with landowners and businesses, and make sure they have plans in place with emergency responders. Local governments can help with land use planning to protect water where it counts most. States can update source water assessments.

And federal agencies can work better together. At EPA, we’re working with USDA Rural Development to better serve the 97% of our nation’s water systems with fewer than 10,000 customers. We’re offering specially tailored technical assistance and financing options for rural water systems, helping make sure they have the resources and expertise they need.

And EPA has taken an important step to protect headwaters and small streams from pollution with our proposed Clean Water Rule, which will reduce the need for expensive treatment.

Protecting drinking water has never been easy, and it’s not getting any easier. But when we focus on infrastructure investments, building partnerships, and protecting source water — we can continue to make a difference.

We’ll have to work together. And when we do, the Safe Drinking Water Act will protect future generations for decades to come.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Delivering on the Promise of the Clean Water Act

On January 9th of this year, concerned citizens noticed a chemical odor floating down the Elk River Valley toward Charleston, West Virginia. State inspectors traced the odor to a Freedom Industries facility, where they found a storage tank leaking the chemical MCHM, used in coal processing.

Before the day ended, drinking water supplies for more than 300,000 people were contaminated. Schools closed. Hospitals evacuated patients. And the local economy ground to a halt.

West Virginia led the response to contain the spill within days. EPA provided technical assistance to help clear the water system, helped determine a water quality level that would be protective of public health, conducted air monitoring—and sent a Special Agent from our Criminal Investigation Division to the site. The Special Agent, in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Charleston and the FBI, conducted more than 100 interviews and launched a joint investigation into the cause of the disaster.

We found a pattern of negligence by the storage tank owners, who were obligated to inspect the tank, fix corrosion, and take action to contain potential spills. Their negligence resulted in one of the nation’s worst environmental disasters in recent memory.

Today, U.S. Attorney Goodwin, along with EPA and FBI officials, announced that four former officers of Freedom Industries have been indicted on Clean Water Act negligent misdemeanor charges, as well as for violating the Refuse Act. Freedom Industries, along with two other individuals, were separately charged with Clean Water Act crimes. The four indicted defendants face multiple years in prison if they are convicted, and the two other individuals each face up to one year.

When Congress enacted the Clean Water Act, it gave states primary authority to implement the laws and protect the environment, including safeguarding drinking water supplies for American communities. EPA works with states to deliver these benefits, including through criminal investigative work that holds serious violators accountable. Our efforts send a clear message to would-be violators that we’re serious about enforcing our laws fairly, leveling the field for companies that play by the rules and follow the law.

The spill occurred in the 40th anniversary year of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which protects drinking water sources and requires that water from our taps be clean. The law has been such a success, and we so often take safe drinking water for granted, that it’s easy to become complacent. But Freedom Industries’ illegal, negligent actions serve as a reminder that we need to vigilantly enforce our laws to protect safe water.

Just last week, the Source Water Collaborative, a group of 25 national organizations united to protect America’s sources of drinking water, launched a call to action—asking utilities, states, federal agencies, and local governments to do more to protect source water, and prevent disasters like the one in Charleston before they happen. EPA provides states with technical and scientific expertise, as we did in the aftermath of the chemical spill in Charleston. We’re also developing tools and resources for prevention, preparedness and response to spills or releases, and sharing them with states so they can meet their legal responsibilities.

Clean, reliable water is precious. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy. Our efforts can’t undo the damage done to public health, the local economy, and the environment in Charleston. But by working together, we can help prevent spills like this one in the future, and protect our children’s health for years to come.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Protecting Your Drinking Water for 40 Years

As I traveled across the country this year, there’s one thing I could count on everywhere I went: tap water that’s safe to drink. Drinking water is essential for healthy families, thriving communities, and strong local economies. And this month we’re proud to celebrate an important milestone as December 16, 2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

We’ve made incredible progress in improving drinking water safety over the past 40 years. Before Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, EPA lacked the authority and the funding to ensure safe drinking water, and over 40% of our nation’s drinking water systems failed to meet even the basic health standards in place at the time.

Today, we almost take safe drinking water for granted. The Safe Drinking Water Act has been such a success that we sometimes lose sight of how far we’ve come. Americans drink over 1 billion glasses of tap water every day. We enjoy the cleanest drinking water in the world, with more than 90 percent of Americans receiving water that meets all standards, all the time.
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Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations.

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Let’s Talk About 40 Years of Safe Drinking Water

By Peter Grevatt

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act. We’ve made such incredible progress in improving the safety of the water we drink over the past 40 years that today we almost take it for granted. But, clean and reliable water is at the very foundation of what makes our communities strong. It’s what lets our children grow up healthy, keeps our schools and hospitals running, and fuels our economy.

As one part of our commemoration of this important milestone, I’ll be participating in a Twitter chat on Tuesday, December 16, at 1:00 pm ET. We’ll talk about the accomplishments of the past 40 years under the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the challenges that lie ahead. Please plan to join the conversation by asking questions and sharing your ideas for ways that we can continue to ensure we all have safe water to drink!

Want to join me?

Before the chat:
· Plan to participate on December 16, 2014 starting at 1:00 pm ET.
· Encourage your friends to take part, too.

During the chat:
· Tweet questions and comments to @EPAwater and using the #SafeToDrink hashtag.

To learn more about this milestone for our nation’s drinking water, read my blog post, “Safe Drinking Water Act Turning 40,” and visit the 40 Years of Safe Drinking Water website. You can also watch me discuss the anniversary in this video. I look forward to our chat on Tuesday!

About the author: Peter Grevatt, Ph.D. is the director of EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Drinking Water Infrastructure: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

By Vince Gallo

A huge investment is needed to maintain the massive network of infrastructure that delivers water to our taps.

A huge investment is needed to maintain the massive network of infrastructure that delivers water to our taps.

Did you ever think about how that clean, clear, and safe drinking water makes it to your kitchen faucet? Or, when you pass one of those huge, blue water towers: why it’s there? Most of us have never really considered the vast amount of infrastructure needed to bring water from its source to your tap. In reality, the network of pipes, pumps, power generators, reservoirs, and fixtures responsible for delivering drinking water is massive.

Safe drinking water infrastructure can be described as a silent industry, one we tend not to think about until it is not working properly. Floods, hurricanes, spills, and other emergencies are often the only times we give drinking water infrastructure any thought at all. Maybe that’s because in the last four decades, since passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, we have been blessed with the promise of a continuous supply of fresh, safe drinking water.

One of the key successes of the Safe Drinking Water Act is the amount of financing provided by the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund or DWSRF. The DWSRF was established by the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996, and it has been a major success.

The DWSRF works like this: EPA grants funds to each state which are deposited into a special dedicated loan fund, where recipients (typically public water systems) also deposit a 20% match for each grant. The state then lends these funds to individual water systems to improve existing infrastructure or to build new systems. The water systems repay the loans to the state DWSRFs over 20 or 30 years, and – in some cases – some or all of the loan can be forgiven if the system serves an economically disadvantaged community.

Since EPA awarded the first DWSRF grants in 1997 the progress has been remarkable. In the mid-Atlantic, EPA has provided over $1.8 billion in assistance for water infrastructure assistance. Across the country, the DWSRF grants combined with the state match contributions, loan principal and interest repayments, earned interest, and funds borrowed via municipal bonds, have made possible $30.1 billion (with a “B”!) in financial assistance to public drinking water systems. That’s a lot of pipe!

Though the success of the DWSRF program is indisputable, many challenges remain. The current financing need for public water infrastructure is estimated at $384 billion and growing. At the same time, changes in water resources due to a changing climate complicate the task of reliably providing safe drinking water.

Here in the mid-Atlantic, the DWSRF has supported projects to meet challenges like drought conditions by funding water line replacement and water metering projects which help preserve water resources. The DWSRF has also helped water systems build resilience to flooding by using DWSRF funds to locate new water infrastructure outside of flood-prone areas. Projects like these mean that the DWSRF is well-positioned to leverage its success into the future, where it will be a major player – albeit not the only one – in finding and funding solutions to increasingly complex water resource challenges.

Wow! All this talk has made me thirsty. I think I’ll drink a nice, cool glass of water straight from the tap, thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act and the DWSRF.

About the author: Vince Gallo is a financial analyst in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance in EPA’s Water Protection Division. He has over 25 years of experience in the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs. Outside of the office, Vince enjoys traveling.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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40 Years of the Safe Drinking Water Act: The Small Systems Challenge

By Mindy Eisenberg, Protection Branch Chief

When I meet operators and managers of water systems from small cities and towns, I’m always impressed by the tremendous pride they take in their local water services.

Today, more than 94% of the country’s 156,000 drinking water systems are small, serving fewer than 3,300 people. But maintaining those systems can be a real challenge. Having such a small customer base can make it tough to pay for needed repairs, hire and retain qualified operators or plan for future needs. Also, a large number of small water systems are actually schools, campgrounds or restaurants, so water service is not their primary function.

In 1996, the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended to create new programs with small systems in mind. Now we partner with states to help these small systems reliably provide safe drinking water to their customers.

One of the ways the Safe Drinking Water Act helps small systems is through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. Each year, we allocate funding to states, and then states use the money to finance drinking water infrastructure projects at low interest rates. States can also use some of these funds to provide training for operators and managers of small systems, help them with energy conservation and water efficiency, and implement source water protection programs.

We administer a national Training and Technical Assistance Grant for small drinking water systems. This year, we awarded over $12 million to technical assistance providers to help small systems with training and on-site technical assistance.

We also produce guides and tools for small drinking water systems. Projects include a software tool to track scheduled maintenance activities and develop a plan to manage their physical infrastructure (or assets); a series of fact sheets highlighting water and wastewater internships, community college programs and mentoring for new operators; and several fact sheets to help small systems with energy and water efficiency.

As we mark the 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, we’re as committed as ever to helping small drinking water systems to deliver safe and reliable drinking water to their communities. Their operators and managers should be proud. Against some tough odds, they do a commendable job.

About the author: Mindy Eisenberg is the Chief of the Protection Branch in EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water. Her branch is responsible for overseeing the Public Water System Supervision program, Tribal drinking water infrastructure program, Capacity Development program and Operator Certification program, as well as managing training and technical assistance grants to assist small systems.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Kids Deserve Safe Drinking Water at School and at Home

By Dr. Francine St-Denis, OGWDW

I love watching my boys playing outside. After running around, they’ll bound up to the nearest water fountain for a drink of water. Nothing seems to beat the fascination my boys and most young kids seem to have with water fountains. It could be that the bubbling stream of water offers numerous possibilities for misadventures like splashing your brother. But I know they need water to stay healthy and hydrated. As a parent, I am very interested in making sure that the water our children are drinking is safe. As a scientist in EPA’s Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water, that is my top priority!

The majority of kids in the United States, including my own, spend large portions of their day in school. Most schools and child care facilities receive their drinking water from nearby public water systems. Public water systems must comply with the strict drinking water quality standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Water pipes and plumbing fixtures in school buildings can affect the quality of the drinking water. On more than one occasion, I’ve seen water fountains at child care facilities or schools that needed cleaning. Best practices for drinking water in our schools and child care facilities include the following actions:

  1. Clean water fountains daily (reduces bacteria) and clean debris out of faucet outlet screens (to remove particulate lead and other sediments).
  2. Test for your drinking water for lead. The only way to know if your children are exposed to elevated lead levels is to test it.

Over the years, we’ve taken steps to raise awareness of lead in drinking water as a possible source of lead contamination and to encourage facilities to test. As an example of those efforts, EPA has entered into a three-year agreement with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Calhoun County Public Health Department to conduct testing at schools and child care facilities in Calhoun County, Michigan, for lead in drinking water.

For recommendations on how to improve the drinking water in your building, please read EPA’s Drinking Water Best Management Practices for Schools and Child Care Facilities Guide.

For more information about the Safe Drinking Water Act, visit: www2.epa.gov/safedrinkingwater40

About the author: Francine St-Denis is a chemist in the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (OGWDW), where she serves as the implementation rule manager for the Lead and Copper Rule and the Radionuclides Rule. She also leads OGWDW’s efforts to reduce lead in drinking water in schools and child care facilities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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What’s on Tap?

by Pam Lazos

 

Tap water flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist.

Tap water flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist.

Today in the U.S., through miracles of engineering and ingenuity, clean water is delivered right to your faucet, cheaply, efficiently and good enough to drink, bathe in and cook with. Do you know why? Since the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, EPA has been regulating the water we drink, and that’s a beautiful thing. EPA sets legal limits, designed to protect human health, on the levels of more than 90 contaminants in drinking water. There are also rules that set how and when water must be tested. So why does tap water sometimes get a bad rap when it flows to you with a simple twist of the wrist?

Some say they prefer the taste of bottled water over tap water, and others believe bottled is safer than tap. Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under its food safety program. But where does that bottled water come from? If you look at the label of any bottled water, you’re likely to see waterfalls and pristine lakes, or wild rivers and cool mountain springs. The scene is relaxing, energizing, soothing, and delightful, right? But what you see is not always what you get: about 25% of all bottled water is actually tap water! When you factor in the safety and convenience of tap water with the higher relative cost of bottled water, the plastic waste often associated with bottled water, and the greenhouse gases associated with transporting bottled water, the reasons to turn to tap water really start to stack up.

When you’re on the go and you need a refreshing drink, fill up your own personal bottle with tap water. Today you can find attractive and lightweight water bottle containers in every size and color so it’s no problem finding the container that you need while in the car, going for a run, or while at work. So next time, don’t reach for the bottled water. Turn on the tap! I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

About the author: Pam Lazos is an attorney in the Office of Regional Counsel in EPA Region 3, and focuses on water law. When not in the office, she keeps bees, writes books, and volunteers in her community on various projects that benefit women and children.

 

 

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Healthy Water, Healthy Kids

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

The moment just before splashing in a puddle.

By Jennie Saxe

Like most children, my kids interact with water in many ways, from the moment they wake up to the moment their little heads hit their pillows. Every day, my boys use water for drinking, bathing, and brushing their teeth. The clothes they wear and the dishes they eat from get washed in water as well. They also love swimming, splashing in puddles, and hiking near (and sometimes falling into) Crum Creek. Because water interacts with nearly every part of our children’s lives, healthy kids depend on healthy water.

From Baltimore to Bangladesh – improving water quality means improving children’s health. As adults, we can do lots of things right in our own communities to make sure our kids have healthy water. Things like supporting local efforts to protect drinking water sources; conserving water resources by installing WaterSense-labeled products; and planting rain gardens to slow the flow of stormwater. And for the kids in other corners of the globe, we can support charitable organizations that bring water resources and sanitation to those who most desperately need them.

There’s something else we can do to help provide healthy waters for our kids into the future: we can teach them about the water resources all around them! Never underestimate what kids can do – their insight, ingenuity, and motivation are unparalleled when they understand connections to their daily lives. You never know…they may come up with their own amazing projects that protect and restore water quality. To get our next generation of water protectors started, EPA has compiled a variety of educational resources and activities geared toward students and educators.

At home, and at work, I always look forward to opportunities to teach children about water resources. Earth Day, Drinking Water Week, Protect Your Groundwater Day, American Wetlands Month, World Rivers Day, and, the upcoming 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act all provide opportunities for communicating with our kids, in language they understand, just how important our precious waters really are.

About the author: Dr. Jennie Saxe joined EPA’s Mid-Atlantic Region in 2003 and works in the Water Protection Division on sustainability programs. She’s taught her kids where their water comes from and what happens when it goes down the drain.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.