drinking water

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.

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.

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.
More

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

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.

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.

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.

Dreaming of a Better Bathroom? Retrofit with WaterSense!

by Kimberly Scharl

With WaterSense-labeled products, you can save water, energy, and money.

With WaterSense-labeled products, you can save water, energy, and money.

Bathrooms are by far the largest water users in the home, accounting for more than half of all the water that families use indoors. But advances in plumbing technology and design mean that there is a wide variety of faucets, showers, and toilets that use significantly less water than standard models while still delivering the rinse, spray, and flush you expect. So, if you are planning to remodel your bathroom, you have a great opportunity to also save water and money.

Why save water? Because it’s our most precious natural resource, and because at least two-thirds of the United States have experienced or are bracing for local, regional, or statewide water shortages. Even after recent rains in the mid-Atlantic, the U.S. Drought Monitor shows areas in the region that are abnormally dry.

WaterSense labeled products are backed by independent third party certification that meet EPA’s specifications for water efficiency and performance. So, when you use WaterSense labeled products in your home or business, you can be confident you’ll be saving water without sacrifice.

Changes we make at home will add up quickly in neighborhoods across the country. If one in every 10 American homes upgrades a full bathroom with WaterSense-labeled fixtures, we could save about 74 billion gallons of water and about $1.6 billion on our utility bills nationwide per year.

Giving your bathroom a high-efficiency makeover by replacing older, inefficient bathroom fixtures with a WaterSense-labeled toilet, faucet, and showerhead can help your household save in more ways than one. Use this simple water savings calculator to estimate how much water, energy, and money you can save by installing WaterSense-labeled products in your home or apartment.

 

About the Author: Kimberly Scharl joined EPA in 2010, after moving to Pennsylvania from Mississippi. She is a financial analyst and project officer in the Office of Infrastructure and Assistance, and is the Regional Liaison for the WaterSense Program. Kim enjoys bowling and spending time with her family.

 

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.

The Best Gifts Do Great Things

By: Una Song

Are you like me and struggle with coming up with great gift ideas during the holidays? Of course, everyone wants electronics these days. According to the Consumer Electronics Association, 63 percent of U.S. adults plan to give the gift of technology this year. Tablets, laptops and TVs are popular gift items – I know my niece and nephew would love any one of these!

The great news is that you can give your friends and family the high-tech gifts they want AND help fight climate change by making one simple choice—ENERGY STAR. You can find ENERGY STAR certified options for the hottest products — smart or Ultra HD TVs, tablets, laptops, sound bars and more. Choosing products that have earned EPA’s ENERGY STAR label means your gift will continue giving through energy savings. In fact, a home equipped with TVs, set-top boxes, a Blu Ray player and a home theatre in a box that have earned the ENERGY STAR, can save more than $280 over the life of the products.

best gifts

With an average of 24 electronics products in every home, there are lots of opportunities to save energy in every room of the house.

  • ENERGY STAR certified TVs are 25% more energy efficient than standard ones.
  • A certified sound bar is 78% more efficient.
  • A Blu-ray player that has earned the ENERGY STAR is up to 45% more efficient.

The next time you are looking for the perfect present, look for the ENERGY STAR. Show your loved ones that the best gifts can do great things.

Una Song works for EPA’s ENERGY STAR program and focuses on consumer electronics marketing. When she’s not surfing the internet, she’s playing with her two cats.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Driving Innovation While Ensuring Clean, Safe Drinking Water

By Ramona Trovato

Across the country, 94 percent of the 150,000 public drinking water systems are considered small systems, meaning they serve fewer than 3,300 people. While many of these small systems consistently provide really good, safe and reliable drinking water to the people they serve, they face enormous challenges in their ability to maintain, replace, and improve their technologies.

EPA' Ramona Trovato (Associate Assistant Administrator, Office of Research and Development) and Curt Spalding (New England Regional Administrator)

EPA’ Ramona Trovato (Associate Assistant Administrator, Office of Research and Development) and Curt Spalding (New England Regional Administrator)

To address this issue, I recently participated in the announcement of a $4.1 million Science to Achieve Results, or STAR, grant establishing the Water Innovation Network for Sustainable Small Systems (WINSSS) Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Along with Governor Deval Patrick, Chancellor Subbaswamy and EPA’s New England Regional Administrator, Curt Spalding, and others, we recognized the need for innovation in the water sector, specifically for small drinking water systems.

In New England, where the WINSSS is located, a total of about 10,000 systems are small which is about 90% of the region’s drinking water systems.

One of the biggest challenges is financial resources. Aging infrastructure needs to be maintained and replaced when there’s a leak. They also need to find ways to improve their infrastructure, but there just isn’t a lot of money for capital improvements.

State primacy agencies also find it difficult to support the high number of small systems across the country. Small systems operators also need to stay up to date with treatment alternatives, regulations, health implications, and emerging contaminants. Many small systems would perform better using new and innovative technologies that are more affordable, last longer, and require less maintenance. Another challenge is access to tested and reliable technologies.

The WINSSS Center will ultimately help small systems produce safe drinking water and operate in the most efficient manner possible while providing information and access to these technologies.

The Center will:

  • Create standardized cross-state testing requirements so that new technologies can get to market faster at a less expensive cost.
  • Develop novel approaches to treating groups of contaminants so that we’re not treating one contaminant at a time. This will reduce costs and is more effective than treating contaminants individually.
  • Create tools to simplify operations like an asset management application to help systems operators log all their assets and provide monitoring and notifications for maintenance.
  • Develop a database identifying technologies that are suitable for small systems use – taking into consideration energy use, regulatory requirements and system acceptance.
  • Build a network to share information with other small systems around the country.

The Center—and another we’ve funded at the University of Colorado, Boulder—will meet today’s urgent need for state-of-the-art innovation, development, demonstration, and use of treatment, information and process technologies in small water systems.

About the Author: Ramona Trovato is the associate assistant administrator in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action.

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.

A Decade of Partnership for the Nation’s River

: A view of the Potomac River at Great Falls. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

A view of the Potomac River at Great Falls. Photo credit: C&O Canal NHP via Flickr.

by Vicky Binetti

This year, members of the Potomac River Drinking Water Source Protection Partnership are marking the tenth anniversary of their 2004 partnership resolution. I recall the excitement as water utilities from the middle Potomac, and federal, interstate and state government representatives signed a giant version of the partnership’s framework document at Little Seneca Reservoir in Maryland, pledging to work together to protect the quality of the Nation’s River, the source of drinking water for more than 5 million people.

On that September day, our aspirations were high: to develop a unified voice for the protection of drinking water sources, provide a forum to enhance understanding of important water quality issues, and build a team to coordinate action on priority concerns. Over the past 10 years, partnership members have joined forces to conduct unique sampling studies for pathogens and emerging contaminants. We’ve conducted workshops on runoff of salt-laden stormwater from winter storms; on the potential risks posed by newly recognized contaminants, and ways to reduce their presence in water supplies; and on the potential for nutrient pollution from agricultural and urban sources to contribute to harmful algal blooms. We’ve developed coordinated early warning systems and emergency response strategies; conducted exercises to simulate real disasters; and shared lessons learned and contingencies planned in dealing with floods, droughts and power failures. We’ve examined the success and value of land conservation efforts in the basin, and probed the simple elegance of how forested lands protect downstream water quality.

After a decade in partnership, our experience tells us that even as our understanding has increased, challenges remain. As our population has grown, and land and water use have become more intense, the need for safeguarding sources of our water supply remains a priority. Whatever challenges lie ahead, this partnership will build upon a foundation of strong science and collaboration.

So, in this same year that we’re celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, let’s also raise a toast – with tap water, of course – to 10 years of protecting the Potomac River.

 

About the author: Vicky Binetti is Associate Director of EPA Region 3’s Water Protection Division, with responsibilities including public drinking water system compliance, source water protection and underground injection control in the mid-Atlantic states. At home in southern New Jersey, Vicky is a member of the Environmental Commission and Open Space Advisory Committee.

 

 

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.

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.

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.