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EPA and District Rise to Drinking Water Challenge

Release Date: 11/13/1998
Contact Information: Contact: Ruth Podems (215) 814-5540

PHILADELPHIA - The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency is stepping up efforts to ensure that all Americans have safe drinking water.

More than 85 percent of all Americans receive safe, healthy drinking water from water supply systems that comply with federal standards.  However, President Clinton has challenged the EPA to work harder to clean up the remaining 15 percent, so that every American has clean drinking water every day.

Clean water is mandated by the U.S. Safe Drinking Water Act, which places the primary responsibility of carrying out regulations on the states.  EPA’s responsibility is to oversee the state programs, help pay to build new systems, upgrade old systems, set new drinking water standards, and deal with the worst polluters.

Most violations are committed by small water suppliers who sell water to 100 or fewer customers.  Many are monitoring violations, which are critical because the first step in clean water is knowing what’s in the water.  

To ensure that no problem goes unnoticed, federal and state regulators require all water suppliers to monitor and report all types and quantities of contamination, including bacteria, minerals like lead and copper, and hundreds of chemicals.

During the last five years EPA’s mid-Atlantic region, which includes the states of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia initiated 64,393 enforcement actions against public water systems.  

EPA and the states regulate over 21,000 water supplies in the mid-Atlantic states.  Six hundred large systems supply 90 percent of the water consumed by Region III’s
estimated 26 million residents.  Only 10 percent of public water is supplied by the remaining 20,400 small and medium-size water systems.

Large water systems are those that serve populations over 50,000; medium systems serve from 3300 to 50,000 people and small systems serve up to 3300 customers.

The District of Columbia has one large water system that serves 595,000 customers.  During the past five years, one federal enforcement action was directed at D.C.’s system.  Since 1996, the District of Columbia’s water system has been in full compliance.  EPA has worked hard to upgrade D.C.’s water supply so residents of our nation’s capitol have safe drinking water.

Enforcement actions can be informal or formal, ranging from a phone call asking why a particular report is late, to a full blown criminal action that can carry a jail sentence for criminal polluters.  But, the drinking water story is more than regulators carefully guarding against pollution of drinking water supplies.  It’s also about money.

The federal government gives states billions of dollars to establish state revolving fund programs to improve and protect drinking water supplies.  Revolving funds are loans repaid by one borrower, such as a local water supplier, then reloaned to another borrower to improve another water supply.

In fiscal year 1998, a total of About $450,000 in federal funds were spent in the District of Columbia to improve drinking water infrastructure, like construction of water distribution lines and treatment plants.  Funds are also used to provide technical assistance to small water systems and expand operator training and certification programs.  

The last step in ensuring safe, healthy drinking water is President Clinton’s  recent announcement of the Consumer Confidence Rule, which  requires local suppliers to tell customers -- on their bills, via Internet, or by other means -- what’s in their water,  the quality of their water, the source of their water, possible sources of any contaminants, and health education statements for like children, the elderly and people with immune system disorders like leukemia and AIDS.  

Consumers should begin receiving the reports by October 1999 and June every year thereafter.  Additional information about EPA’s Drinking Water Program may be obtained by calling the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791, or on the Internet at http://www.epa.gov/safewater.


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