Safe Drinking Water Act

Safe Drinking Water Act
Safe Drinking Water Act
Great Seal of the United States.
Full title An Act to amend the Public Health Service Act to assure that the public is provided with safe drinking water, and for other purposes
Colloquial name(s) SDWA
Enacted by the 93rd United States Congress
Effective December 16, 1974
Public Law Pub. L. 93-523
Stat. 88 Stat. 1660 (1974)
U.S.C. sections created 42 U.S.C. § 300f
Legislative history
  • Introduced in the Senate as S. 433 by Warren Magnuson (D–WA) on January 18, 1973
  • Committee consideration by: Senate Commerce, House Commerce
  • Passed the Senate on June 22, 1973 ()
  • Passed the House on November 19, 1974 (296-84 as H.R. 13002) with amendment
  • Senate agreed to House amendment on November 26, 1974 () with further amendment
  • House agreed to Senate amendment on December 3, 1974 ()
  • Signed into law by President Gerald Ford on December 16, 1974
Major amendments
Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986,[1]

Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996[2]

Relevant Supreme Court cases

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the principle federal law in the United States intended to ensure safe drinking water for the public.[3] Pursuant to the act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set standards for drinking water quality and oversee all states, localities, and water suppliers who implement these standards.

SDWA applies to every public water system in the United States.[4] There are currently more than 150,000 public water systems[5] providing water to almost all Americans at some time in their lives. The Act does not cover private wells.[6]

The SDWA does not apply to bottled water. Bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.[7]


National Primary Drinking Water Regulations

The SDWA requires EPA to establish National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs) for contaminants that may cause adverse public health effects.[8]

The regulations include both mandatory levels (Maximum Contaminant Levels, or MCLs) and nonenforceable health goals (Maximum Contaminant Level Goals, or MCLGs) for each included contaminant. MCLs have additional significance because they can be used under the Superfund law as "Applicable or Relevant and Appropriate Requirements" in cleanups of contaminated sites on the National Priorities List.

Future NPDWR standards will apply to non-transient non-community water systems because of concern for the long-term exposure of a stable population. It is important to note that EPA's decision to apply future NPDWRs to non-transient non-community water systems may have a significant impact on Department of Energy facilities that operate their own drinking water systems.

"Lead Free" plumbing requirements

The 1986 amendments require EPA to set standards limiting the concentration of lead in public water systems, and defines "lead free" pipes as:

(1) solders and flux containing not more than 0.2 percent lead;
(2) pipes and pipe fittings containing not more than 8.0 percent lead; and
(3) plumbing fittings and fixtures as defined in industry-developed voluntary standards (issued no later than August 6, 1997), or standards developed by EPA in lieu of voluntary standards.[9]

EPA issued an initial lead and copper regulation in 1991.[10]

Airline water supplies

In 2004, EPA tested drinking water quality on commercial aircraft and found that 15 percent of tested aircraft water systems tested positive for total coliform bacteria. EPA published a final regulation for aircraft public water systems in 2009. The regulation requires air carriers operating in the U.S. to conduct coliform sampling, management practices, corrective action, public notification, operator training, and reporting and recordkeeping. An airline with a non-complying aircraft must restrict public access to the on-board water system for a specified period.[11]

Unregulated contaminants

The SDWA requires EPA to identify and list unregulated contaminants which may require regulation. The Agency must periodically publish this list, called the "Contaminant Candidate List," and decide whether to regulate at least five or more listed contaminants. EPA uses this list to prioritize research and data collection efforts, which support the regulatory determination process.[12]

Related programs

Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program

The 1974 act authorized EPA to regulate injection wells in order to protect underground sources of drinking water.[13] Congress amended the SDWA in 2005 to exclude hydraulic fracturing, an industrial process for recovering oil and natural gas, from coverage under the UIC program.[14][15]

Whistleblower protection

The SDWA includes a whistleblower protection provision.[16] Employees in the US who believe they were fired or suffered another adverse action related to enforcement of this law have 30 days to file a written complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.



Prior to the SDWA there were few national enforceable requirements for drinking water. Improvements in testing were allowing the detection of smaller concentrations of contaminant and allowing more tests to be run.[17][18] Many states had drinking water regulations prior to adoption of the federal SDWA.

1974 Act

The Safe Drinking Water Act was one of several pieces of environmental legislation in the 1970s. Discovery of organic contamination in public drinking water and the lack of enforceable, national standards persuaded Congress to take action.

1986 amendments

The 1986 SDWA amendments required EPA to apply future NPDWRs to both community and non-transient non-community water systems when it evaluated and revised current regulations.[1] The first case in which this was applied was the "Phase I" final rule, published on July 8, 1987.[19] At that time NPDWRs were promulgated for certain synthetic volatile organic compounds and applied to non-transient non-community water systems as well as community water systems. This rulemaking also clarified that non-transient non-community water systems were not subject to MCLs that were promulgated before July 8, 1987. The 1986 amendments were signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on June 19, 1986.

In addition to requiring more contaminants to be regulated, the 1986 amendments included:

  • Well head protection
  • New monitoring for certain substances
  • Filtration for certain surface water systems
  • Disinfection for certain groundwater systems
  • Restriction on lead in solder and plumbing
  • More enforcement powers.[20]

1996 SDWA amendments

In 1996, Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to emphasize sound science and risk-based standard setting, small water supply system flexibility and technical assistance, community-empowered source water assessment and protection, public right-to-know, and water system infrastructure assistance through a multi-billion-dollar state revolving loan fund. The amendments were signed into law by President Bill Clinton on August 6, 1996.[2]

Main points of the 1996 amendments

  1. Consumer Confidence Reports: All community water systems must prepare and distribute annual reports about the water they provide, including information on detected contaminants, possible health effects, and the water's source.
  2. Cost-Benefit Analysis: EPA must conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis for every new standard to determine whether the benefits of a drinking water standard justify the costs.
  3. Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.[21] States can use this fund to help water systems make infrastructure or management improvements or to help systems assess and protect their source water.
  4. Microbial Contaminants and Disinfection Byproducts: EPA is required to strengthen protection for microbial contaminants, including cryptosporidium, while strengthening control over the byproducts of chemical disinfection. EPA promulgated the Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule[22] and the Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule[23] to address these risks.
  5. Operator Certification: Water system operators must be certified to ensure that systems are operated safely. EPA issued guidelines in 1999 specifying minimum standards for the certification and recertification of the operators of community and non-transient, noncommunity water systems.[24] These guidelines apply to state operator certification programs. All states are currently implementing EPA-approved operator certification programs.
  6. Public Information and Consultation: SDWA emphasizes that consumers have a right to know what is in their drinking water, where it comes from, how it is treated, and how to help protect it. EPA distributes public information materials (through its Drinking Water Hotline, Safewater web site, and Resource Center) and holds public meetings, working with states, tribes, water systems, and environmental and civic groups, to encourage public involvement.
  7. Small Water Systems: Small water systems are given special consideration and resources under SDWA, to make sure they have the managerial, financial, and technical ability to comply with drinking water standards.

Proposed amendments

The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act (H.R. 2766, S. 1215), dubbed the "FRAC Act," was introduced to both houses of the 111th Congress on June 9, 2009. The bill would have repealed the exemption for hydraulic fracturing in the SDWA and regulated the oil and natural gas recovery process under the UIC program. It would have required the energy industry to disclose the chemicals it mixes with the water and sand it pumps underground in the process (also known as "fracking"), information that has largely been protected as trade secrets. Controversy surrounds the practice of hydraulic fracturing as a threat to drinking water supplies. The natural gas industry opposed the legislation. The House bill was introduced by representatives Diana DeGette (D-CO), Maurice Hinchey (D-NY), and Jared Polis (D-CO). The Senate version was introduced by senators Bob Casey (D-PA), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY). A similar bill has not been introduced in the 112th Congress.[25]

See also


  1. ^ a b Pub.L. 99-359; 100 Stat. 642. "Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986." 1986-06-19.
  2. ^ a b Pub.L. 104-182, 110 Stat. 1613. "Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996." 1996-08-06.
  3. ^ Pub.L. 93-523; 88 Stat. 1660; 42 U.S.C. § 300f et seq. 1974-12-16.
  4. ^ A public water system has at least 15 service connections or regularly serves at least 25 individuals, at least 60 days per year. 42 U.S.C. § 300f(4)(A)
  5. ^ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Washington, DC. "FACTOIDS: Drinking Water and Ground Water Statistics for 2009". 
  6. ^ U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Washington, DC. "Private Drinking Water Wells." 2006-02-21.
  7. ^ Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. § 301 et seq.
  8. ^ EPA. "National Primary Drinking Water Regulations." Code of Federal Regulations, 40 CFR Part 141.
  9. ^ Safe Drinking Water Act. "Prohibition on use of lead pipes, solder, and flux." 42 U.S.C. § 300g-6(d).
  10. ^ EPA. "Maximum Contaminant Level Goals and National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for Lead and Copper; Final Rule." Federal Register, 56 F.R. 26460, 1991-06-07.
  11. ^ EPA. "National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Drinking Water Regulations for Aircraft Public Water Systems." Final rule. Federal Register, 74 FR 53590, 2009-10-19.
  12. ^ EPA (2011-06-01). "Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List and Regulatory Determinations"
  13. ^ SDWA. "Regulations for State programs." 42 U.S.C. § 300h
  14. ^ Energy Policy Act of 2005, (Pub.L. 109-58), approved 2005-08-08. Amended SDWA § 1421(d). See 42 U.S.C. § 300h.
  15. ^ EPA. "Regulation of Hydraulic Fracturing by the Office of Water." 2010-09-09.
  16. ^ SDWA. "General provisions." 42 U.S.C. § 300j-9(i)
  17. ^ Bredickas, Vincent; Hartnett, Kim (1998-02-24). "Safe Drinking Water Act". Water Treatment Primer. Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Retrieved 2010-03-21. 
  18. ^ Theiss, Jeffrey C.; Stoner, Gary D.; Shimkin, Michael B.; Weisburger, Elizabeth K. (1977). "Test for Carcinogenicity of Organic Contaminants of United States Drinking Waters by Pulmonary Tumor Response in Strain A Mice". Cancer Research (American Association for Cancer Research) 37 (8 Pt 1): 2717–2720. ISSN 1538-7445. PMID 872098. 
  19. ^ EPA (1987). "National Primary Drinking Water Regulations – Synthetic Organic Chemicals; Monitoring for Unregulated Contaminants; Final Rule." Federal Register, 52 FR 25690, 1987-07-08.
  20. ^ EPA (1986). "President Signs Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments." Press release. 1986-06-20.
  21. ^ EPA. Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Program and implementation regulations. 40 CFR 3500 (Subpart L).
  22. ^ EPA (1998). "Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule." Federal Register, 63 FR 69389, 1998-12-16.
  23. ^ EPA (1998). "Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule ." Federal Register, 63 FR 69477, 1998-12-16.
  24. ^ EPA (1999). "Final guidelines for the Certification and Recertification of the Operators of Community and Nontransient Noncommunity Public Water Systems." Federal Register, 64 FR 5915, 1999-02-05.
  25. ^ Gibbin, Pamela (2011-02-09). "Hydraulic Fracturing: The Media Campaign and Federal Initiatives." American College of Environmental Lawyers, Portland, OR.

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