Next up in Acronym Soup…SDWA

By Jeffery Robichaud

Several weeks ago I mentioned that I was going to start a series of blog entries related to major environmental laws, and to share the availability of related EPA data sets, particularly those that had some geospatial attributes.  I started my career with EPA at the Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water in Washington DC, so the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) seems like a good place to wade in.

SDWA was passed in 1974 (and amended in both 1986 and 1996) to protect the quality of drinking water (both above ground and underground sources) in America.  You can learn everything you ever wanted to know about SDWA with a quick trip to EPA’s Groundwater and Drinking Water Page.

Established by EPA to protect citizens from harmful contaminants in drinking water, and enforced primarily by States, SDWA establishes two types of standards for drinking water systems: Primary Standards, which are health-based and take the form of maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) or treatment techniques; and Secondary Standards which are cosmetic or aesthetic based.

In Region 7 we have a combination of surface water and groundwater systems throughout our four states.  There are thousands more groundwater systems than surface water; however nearly nine out of every ten people in the Region get their water from surface water systems than groundwater.

If you care to find out about drinking water treatment facilities in a particular state or county within a state, the easiest way to access that information is through the SDWIS search function of Envirofacts.

SDWIS stands for the Safe Drinking Water Information System.  Simply click on your State (or territory…yes you Virgin Islands) of interest, click on a couple of items in the drop downs and you will have a list of facilities, the type of water that they use, and the population served.  Clicking on a particular facility will give you information about violations.  If you are adventurous you can access a spreadsheet containing information about all water systems here.  From a GIS perspective, it’s easy enough to address match the locations.

In addition to information about locations and violations found in SDWIS, EPA maintains several other datasets researchers and others may find useful, two of which are available through the National Contaminant Occurrence Database.  This database contains information from both Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring and from Six-Year Review Monitoring (currently regulated contaminants) conducted at drinking water plants throughout the country.

Hopefully this post was able to wet your whistle when it comes to SDWA.  Thirsty to find out what the next Acronym Du Jour will be (and for more lame puns)?  I’ll give you an adjective hint; instead of safe think clean.

Jeffery Robichaud is a second generation EPA scientist who has worked for the Agency since 1998.  From 1998 to 2001 he worked as Environmental Engineer in EPA’s Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water at beautiful Waterside Mall in Washington, DC.  He currently serves as Deputy Director of EPA Region 7′s Environmental Services Division.  He prefers his water from a tap not a bottle.

Editor's Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone's rights or obligations. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content, or remove EPA’s identity as the author. If you do make substantive changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to specific content on a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.