Drinking water quality legislation of the United States

Drinking water quality legislation of the United States

In the United States, public drinking water is governed by the laws and regulations enacted by the federal and state governments. Certain ordinances may also be created at a more local level. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the principal federal law. The SDWA authorizes the USEPA to create and enforce regulations to achieve the SDWA goals.


Federal Requirements

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the principal federal law concerning drinking water. SDWA authorized the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) to promulgate regulations regarding water supply. The major regulations are in title 40 of the Code of Federal Regulations (40CFR141, 40CFR142, and 40CFR143). Parts 141, 142, and 143 regulate primary contaminants, implementation by states, and secondary contaminants. Primary contaminants are those with health impacts. State implementation allows states to be the primary regulators of the water supplies (rather than USEPA) provided they meet certain requirements. Secondary contaminants generally cause aesthetic problems and are not directly harmful.

The SDWA also contains provisions that require water supplies to develop emergency plans, water supply operators to be licensed, and watersheds to be protected.

See Portland Water Bureau for an example of how the regulations were applied to a public water system.

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations

Types of Water Systems

The long and complicated 40CFR141 regulates water systems based on size (number) and type of water consumers. Larger water systems and water systems serving year-round residents (cities) have more requirements than smaller water systems or those serving different people each day (a mall).

Control of Contaminants

The regulations divide up contaminants into classes. Some classes are inorganic, organic, lead and copper (regulated separately from inorganic), bacteriological, and radiological. Classes may be subdivided as necessary. Regulations may require certain maximum contaminant levels or may require specific treatment techniques.

Regulation of specific groups of contaminants is often termed a "rule". These are also generally organized in the code as "Subparts".

  • TCR: Total Coliform Rule
  • LCR: Lead and Copper Rule
  • DBP1/2: Disinfection Byproduct Rules I and II
  • SWTR: Surface Water Treatment Rule
  • LT1/2: Enhanced Filtration and Disinfection and Enhanced Treatment for Cryptosporidium
  • Information Collection Rule
  • GWR: Ground Water Rule
  • UCMR/2: Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rules

Monitoring and Reporting

Testing is required to determine compliance with maximum contaminant levels. The code specifies when and how samples are to be taken and analyzed. The code specifies who must be notified and the manner of the notification. One such provision is Subpart O, Consumer Confidence Reports. These reports are a summary of the water supplies sources and water quality testing results. The reports must be sent to all customers annually.

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations Implementation

These regulations (40CFR142) are pursuant to the Public Health Service Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act. They govern how states and Indian Tribes can enforce the federal rules. Generally, a state must incorporate the requirements of the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations into the state's own regulations. States may be more stringent, but not less stringent, than the federal rules. Federal funding is available to states that implement or enforce some or all of the federal requirements.

The entity responsible for enforcement is said to have "Primacy".

National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations

The relatively short 40CFR143 does not actually regulate: The regulations are not Federally enforceable but are intended as guidelines for the States.[1] Although not federally enforceable, some states regulate the secondary contaminants.

The guidelines include recommendations for maximum concentrations for 15 contaminants, when to sample, and how to analyze the samples.

Some contaminants in the Secondary Regulations are also regulated in the Primary Regulations. This generally occurs when a contaminant is a nuisance at a low level, but toxic at a higher concentration.


Municipalities throughout the US - from the largest cities to the smallest towns - sometimes fail to meet EPA standards. The USEPA may fine the jurisdiction responsible for the violation, but this does not always motivate the municipality to take corrective action. In such cases, non-compliance with USEPA may continue for many months or years after the initial violation. This could result from the fact that the city simply doesn't have the financial resources necessary to replace aging water pipes or upgrade their purification equipment. In rare cases, the source water used by the municipality could be so polluted that water purification processes can't do an adequate job. This can occur when a town is downstream from a large sewage treatment plant or large-scale agricultural operations. Citizens who live in such places - especially young children, the elderly, or people of any age with autoimmune deficiencies - may suffer serious health complications as a long-term result of drinking water from their own taps.

State Requirements


Timeline of Existing Federal Water and State Drinking Water Quality Regulations

National Interim Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NIPDWR) Promulgated 1975-1981 Contained 7 contaminants Targeted: Trihalomethanes, Arsenic, and Radionuclides Established 22 drinking water standards

Phase 1 Standards Promulgated 1987 Contained 8 contaminants Targeted: VOCs

Phase 2 Standards Promulgated 1991 Contained 36 contaminants Targeted: VOCs, SOCs, and IOCs

Phase 5 Standards Promulgated 1992 Contained 23 contaminants Targeted: VOCs, SOCs, and IOCs

Surface Water Treatment Rule (SWTR) Promulgated 1989 Contained 5 contaminants Targeted: Microbiological and Turbidity

Stage 1 Disinfectant/Disinfection By-product(D/DBP) Rule Promulgated 1998 Contained 14 contaminants Targeted: DBPs and precursors

Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (IESWTR) Promulgated 1998 Contained 2 contaminants Targeted: Microbiological and Turgidity

Radionuclide Rule Promulgated 2000 Contained 4 contaminants Targeted: Radionuclides

Arsenic Rule Promulgated 2001 Contained 1 contaminant Targeted: Arsenic

Filter Backwash Recycling Rule Promulgated 2001 Contained - Targeted: Microbiological and Turgidity

New Jersey

New Jersey enacted its own Safe Drinking Water Act in 1977[2]. That statute is closely modeled on the Federal Act. The Department of Environmental Protection[3] administers the NJSDWA and its related regulations in the state administrative code.

New York


Public Health Law Section 225 gives the public health council authority to create and modify the State Sanitary Code. Part 5 of the New York State Sanitary Code (10NYCRR5) regulates water supply.

Public water supply regulation in New York predates the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act by decades. As in California, New York has over the years, in accordance with 40CFR142, modified its sanitary code to implement the rules in the federal code.

Occasionally, the Public Health Law is also amended to regulate water supply, e.g. Article 11 of the NY Public Health Law.

The Environmental Conservation Code[4] regulates the sources and districting of water supply.

Other laws that govern the operation of water supply, such as the Transportation Corporation Law, Town Law, and the Public Service Law, affect water quality indirectly.


The New York State Department of Health[5] has primacy for most of the water supply regulation compliance determination and enforcement in New York. The department sets general policy and oversees the local units, which may be district offices, regional offices, or county health departments, who oversee the public water systems.

See also


  1. ^ excerpt from 40CFR143.1
  2. ^ DEP Laws and Regulations
  3. ^ NJ DEP
  4. ^ 6NYCRR601 Water Supply Permits
  5. ^ [1]

External links

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