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Protecting a Vital Resource for Safe and Healthy Communities: EPA Celebrates 40th Anniversary of Safe Drinking Water Act

Release Date: 12/16/2014
Contact Information: Chris Whitley, 913-551-7394, whitley.christopher@epa.gov

Environmental News

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

(Lenexa, Kan., Dec. 16, 2014) - Across the country and throughout the Heartland, most people take it for granted: Turn the tap to quench your thirst, and you can be reasonably assured that your water is clean and safe to drink. It’s an assurance greatly bolstered by the Safe Drinking Water Act, a landmark environmental protection law passed by Congress 40 years ago today.

In celebration of this anniversary, EPA will host a live Twitter chat event today, beginning at 12:00 noon Central Time. To participate, tweet @EPAwater and use #safetodrink.

“Safe drinking water is absolutely essential for healthy and thriving communities,” EPA Region 7 Administrator Karl Brooks said. “In Region 7, more than 12.5 million people rely on regulated public drinking water systems every day.”

Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) on December 16, 1974, and directed EPA to implement a series of regulations and standards to protect public drinking water from source to tap. The law was amended in 1986 and again in 1996 to include additional actions to protect drinking water, including those that recognize the needs for source water protection, training for water system operators, funding for water system improvements, and public information about the quality of treated water to inform water consumers and hold water delivery systems accountable.

“Four decades ago, America’s drinking water simply wasn’t as safe as it is today,” Brooks said. “Sewage, chemicals and trash were freely dumped into our rivers and streams. The regulation of public water supplies was too often limited or, in some places, practically non-existent.”

In 1974, more than half of the water treatment facilities surveyed by the federal government had major deficiencies involving disinfection, clarification, or pressure in their distribution systems all dangerous conditions that posed potentially serious public health hazards.

Today, the United States is recognized as a world leader in providing safe drinking water. Under the authority of the SDWA, EPA has drinking water regulations in place for more than 90 contaminants, including microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection byproducts, inorganic and organic chemicals, and radionuclides.

“We’ve made great strides as a nation in protecting our drinking water over the past 40 years, and EPA will certainly play a key role in keeping this vital resource safe and in supply, both now and in the future,” Brooks said. “While we celebrate four decades under the protection of the Safe Drinking Water Act, we recognize the challenges ahead of us are significant.”

For example, EPA estimates that the U.S. currently has $384 billion in drinking water infrastructure needs the unmet costs of maintaining, repairing and replacing systems that treat and deliver water to the public. Fully 97 percent of all public water systems in the country are categorized as small serving less than 10,000 people and many of those systems face acute problems related to funding, operations and maintenance.

Since its inception in 1997, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, which EPA administers, has provided $25.8 billion in funds for more than 10,000 local drinking water infrastructure projects, including treatment systems, pipes for transmission and distribution, and storage. In EPA Region 7 (Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska and nine tribal nations), the Agency has provided more than $947 million for such projects over that time.

Whether provided by local utilities or drawn from individual wells, the water we drink ultimately comes from groundwater, streams, rivers, springs or lakes all of which may be threatened by pollution or development. EPA works with states, local government and public-private partnerships to protect those resources, promoting compliance and, when appropriate, taking enforcement actions. Through its Waters of the U.S. initiative, EPA has proposed new regulatory authority to ensure those protections are adequate.

Advances in science and technology are helping EPA and its partners, including local water systems, to discover and better understand previously unknown contaminants in water, including chemicals, toxins and pharmaceuticals. EPA evaluates these unregulated contaminants to determine whether new national drinking water standards are needed for public water systems.

Last but not least, climate change poses challenges to the protection of water sources and water infrastructure alike, as systems adapt to warmer temperatures, rising sea levels, stronger storms, more droughts and changes in water chemistry. EPA is meeting those challenges on a variety of fronts, such as by working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Rural Development to increase the sustainability of rural drinking water and wastewater systems, and by promoting use of the Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool (CREAT), which helps water utilities evaluate climate change impacts to their facilities and build greater resilience into their systems.

“EPA has some very robust efforts underway to make drinking water even safer over the next 40 years, and beyond,” Brooks said. “We invite everyone to play a part with us.”

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Learn more about the 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act

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