Safe Drinking Water Act: A Summary of the Act and Its Major Requirements
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA):
A Summary of the Act and
Its Major Requirements
Updated November 20, 2008
Specialist in Environmental Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA):
A Summary of the Act and Its Major Requirements
This report summarizes the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and its major
programs and regulatory requirements. It excerpts, with several additions, the
SDWA chapter of CRS Report RL30798, Environmental Laws: Summaries of Major
Statues Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which
provides summaries of the principal environmental statutes administered by the
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This report includes the drinking water
security provisions added to the SDWA by the Public Heath Security and
Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-188).
The Safe Drinking Water Act, Title XIV of the Public Health Service Act, is the
key federal law for protecting public water supplies from harmful contaminants.
First enacted in 1974 and substantially amended in 1986 and 1996, the act is adminis-
tered through programs that establish standards and treatment requirements for public
water supplies, control underground injection of wastes, finance infrastructure
projects, and protect sources of drinking water. The 1974 law established the current
federal-state arrangement in which states may be delegated primary implementation
and enforcement authority for the drinking water program. The state-administered
Public Water Supply Supervision Program remains the basic program for regulating
the nation’s public water systems, and 49 states have assumed this authority.
The last major reauthorization of the act was done through the Safe Drinking
Water Act Amendments of 1996 (P.L. 104-182), which generally authorized
appropriations for SDWA programs through FY2003. As with other EPA-
administered statutes having expired funding authority, Congress has continued to
appropriate funds for the ongoing SDWA programs.
In addition to reviewing key programs and requirements of the SDWA, this
report includes statistics on the number and types of regulated public water systems.
It also provides tables that list all major amendments, with the year of enactment and
public law number, and that cross-reference sections of the act with the major U.S.
Code sections of the codified statute.
In troduction ..................................................1
Regulated Public Water Systems..................................3
National Drinking Water Regulations..............................5
Contaminant Selection and Regulatory Schedules................5
Variances and Exemptions...................................6
Enforcement, Consumer Information, and Citizen Suits................7
Consumer Information and Reports............................8
Compliance Improvement Programs...............................8
Ground Water Protection Programs................................9
Source Water Assessment and Protection Programs..................10
State Revolving Funds.........................................10
Drinking Water Security.......................................11
Tampering with Public Water Systems........................12
Additional SDWA Provisions...................................12
Research, Technical Assistance, and Training...................13
Records, Inspections, and Monitoring.........................13
National Drinking Water Advisory Council....................13
Assistance to Colonias.....................................14
Drinking Water Studies....................................14
Selected P.L. 104-182 Provisions Not Amending SDWA..............14
Transfer of Funds.........................................14
Grants to Alaska..........................................14
Wastewater Assistance to Colonias...........................15
Additional Infrastructure Funding............................15
List of Tables
Table 1. Safe Drinking Water Act and Amendments......................1
Table 2. Size Categories of Community Water Systems....................4
Table 3. Non-Transient Non-Community Water Systems (NTNCWS)........4
Table 4. Transient Non-Community Water Systems (TNCWS)..............5
Table 5. U.S. Code Sections of the Safe Drinking Water Act
(Title XIV of the Public Health Service Act)........................16
Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA):
A Summary of the Act and
Its Major Requirements
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Title XIV of the Public Health Service
Act, is the key federal law for protecting public water supplies from harmful
contaminants. First enacted in 1974 and substantially amended in 1986 and 1996,
the act is administered through programs that establish standards and treatment
requirements for public water supplies, control underground injection of wastes,
finance infrastructure projects, and protect sources of drinking water. The 1974 law
established the current federal-state arrangement in which states may be delegated
primary implementation and enforcement authority for the drinking water program.
The state-administered Public Water Supply Supervision (PWSS) Program remains
the basic program for regulating the nation’s public water systems, and 49 states have
assumed this authority. The 1996 SDWA amendments generally authorized
appropriations for SDWA programs through FY2003. Table 1 identifies the original
enactment and subsequent amendments.
Table 1. Safe Drinking Water Act and Amendments
(codified generally as 42 U.S.C. 300f-300j)
YearActPublic Law Number
1974Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974P.L. 93-523
1977Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1977P.L. 95-190
1979Safe Drinking Water Act AmendmentsP.L. 96-63
1980Safe Drinking Water Act AmendmentsP.L. 96-502
1986Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986P.L. 99-339
1988Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988P.L. 100-572
1996Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996P.L. 104-182
2002Public Health Security and BioterrorismP.L. 107-188
Preparedness and Response Act of 2002
This report summarizes the act’s major provisions, programs, and requirements,
and is adapted from a broader document, CRS Report RL30798, Environmental
Protection Laws: Summaries of Statutes Administered by the Environmental
Protection Agency. It also provides selected statistics on the universe of regulated
public water systems, and lists references for further information on the act and its
implementation. Table 5, located at the end of this report, cites the major U.S. Code
sections of the act and the equivalent sections of the statute.
As indicated by Table 1, the Safe Drinking Water Act has been amended
several times since enactment of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-523).
Congress passed this law after nationwide studies of community water systems
revealed widespread water quality problems and health risks resulting from poor
operating procedures, inadequate facilities, and uneven management of public water
supplies in communities of all sizes. The 1974 law gave the EPA substantial
discretionary authority to regulate drinking water contaminants and gave states the
lead role in implementation and enforcement.
The first major amendments (P.L. 99-339), enacted in 1986, were largely
intended to increase the pace at which the EPA regulated contaminants and to
increase the protection of ground water. From 1974 until 1986, the EPA had
regulated just one additional contaminant beyond the 22 standards previously
developed by the Public Health Service. The 1986 amendments required the EPA
to (1) issue regulations for 83 specified contaminants by June 1989 and for 25 more
contaminants every three years thereafter, (2) promulgate requirements for
disinfection and filtration of public water supplies, (3) ban the use of lead pipes and
lead solder in new drinking water systems, (4) establish an elective wellhead
protection program around public wells, (5) establish a demonstration grant program
for state and local authorities having designated sole-source aquifers to develop
groundwater protection programs, and (6) issue rules for monitoring injection wells
that inject wastes below a drinking water source. The amendments also increased
EPA’s enforcement authority.
Congress again amended SDWA with the Lead Contamination Control Act of
1988 (P.L. 100-572). These provisions were intended to reduce exposure to lead in
drinking water by requiring the recall of lead-lined water coolers, and requiring the
EPA to issue a guidance document and testing protocol for states to help schools and
day care centers identify and correct lead contamination in school drinking water.
After the regulatory schedule mandated in the 1986 amendments proved to be
unworkable for the EPA, states, and public water systems, the 104th Congress made
sweeping changes to the act with the SDWA Amendments of 1996 (P.L. 104-182).
As over-arching themes, the amendments targeted resources to address the greatest
health risks, added some regulatory flexibility, provided funding for federal drinking
water mandates, and aimed to improve water system compliance capacity. Congress
revoked the requirement that the EPA regulate 25 new contaminants every three
years and created a risk-based approach for selecting contaminants for regulation.
Among other changes, Congress added some flexibility to the standard setting
process, required the EPA to conduct health risk reduction and cost analyses for new
rules, authorized a drinking water state revolving loan fund (DWSRF) program to
help water systems finance projects needed to meet SDWA requirements, added
programs to improve small system compliance, expanded consumer information
requirements, increased the act’s focus on pollution prevention through a voluntary
source water protection program, and streamlined the act’s enforcement provisions.
P.L. 104-182 extended authorizations for appropriations under the act through
In 2002, several drinking water security provisions were added to the SDWA
through the Public Heath Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act
of 2002 (P.L. 107-188). Title IV of the act included requirements for community
water systems serving more than 3,300 individuals to conduct vulnerability
assessments and prepare emergency response plans. The law also required the EPA
to conduct research on preventing and responding to terrorist or other attacks.
Regulated Public Water Systems
Federal drinking water regulations apply to the approximately158,000 privately
and publicly owned water systems that provide piped water for human consumption
to at least 15 service connections or that regularly serve at least 25 people. Nearly
53,000 of these systems are community water systems (CWSs) that serve the same
residences year-round. These 53,000 systems provide water to approximately 282
million people. All federal regulations apply to these systems. Another 19,174
public water systems are non-transient, non-community water systems (NTNCWS),
such as schools or factories, that have their own water supply and generally serve the
same individuals for more than six months but not year-round. Most drinking water
regulations apply to these systems. More than 86,200 other public water systems are
transient non-community water systems (TNCWS), such as campgrounds and gas
stations, that provide their own water to transitory customers. Only regulations for
contaminants that pose immediate health risks apply to these systems.1
Most community water systems (85%) are relatively small, serving 3,300 people
or fewer; these systems provide water to just 9% of the total population served by
community water systems. In contrast, 8% of systems serve populations of 10,000
or more, but provide water to 81% of the population served. Among the community
water systems, 77% rely on ground water and 23% rely on surface water. (See Table
1 EPA’s long-standing policy is to exclude transient systems from drinking water regulations
except for those contaminants, such as nitrate, that the EPA believes have the potential to
cause immediate adverse human health effects resulting from short-term exposure. (Source:
Environmental Protection Agency. National Primary Drinking Water Regulation on Lead
and Copper, minor revisions. January 12, 2000 (65 FR 1950).)
Table 2. Size Categories of Community Water Systems
System Size Number ofCommunityPercentage ofCommunityPopulationServedPercentage ofPopulation
(population served)Water SystemsWater Systems(millions)Served
Very small (25-500)29,66656%4.92%
Very large (>100,000)3861%126.345%
To t a l 54,064 100% 282.3 100%
Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Safe Drinking Water Information System,
Factoids. Drinking Water and Ground Water Statistics for 2005. EPA 816-K-03-001. Dec. 2006.
Available on the Internet at [http://www.epa.gov/safewater/data/getdata.html].
More than 99% (19,055) of the non-transient, non-community water systems are
small or very small and provide water to 83% of the population served by these
systems. Approximately 99,700 of the nearly 105,400 non-community water systems
(transient and non-transient systems combined) serve 500 or fewer people. These
statistics give some insight into the scope of technological, economic, and managerial
challenges small public water systems may face in meeting federal drinking water
regulations. Tables 3 and 4 provide statistics for non-transient non-community water
systems and transient non-community water systems.
Table 3. Non-Transient Non-Community Water Systems
System Size Number ofPercentagePopulationServedPercentage ofPopulation
(population served)NTNCWSof NTNCWS(millions)Served
Very small (25-500)16,34885%2.2838%
Very large (>100,000)00%00%
To t a l 19,174 100% 6.92 100%
Source: EPA Safe Drinking Water Information System, Factoids. Drinking Water and Ground Water
Statistics for 2005. NTNCWS regularly supplies water to at least 25 of the same people at least six
months per year, but not year-round (e.g., schools, factories, office buildings and hospitals which have
their own water systems. Most regulatory requirements apply to these systems.
Table 4. Transient Non-Community Water Systems (TNCWS)
System size Number ofPercentagePopulationServedPercentage ofPopulation
(population served)TNCWSof TNCWS(millions)Served
Very small (25-500)83,35197%7.2952%
Large (10,001-100,000)230%0.604 %
Very large (>100,000)40%2.9921%
To t a l 86,210 100% 14.16 100%
Source: EPA Safe Drinking Water Information System, Factoids. Drinking Water and Ground
Water Statistics for 2005. Transient non-community water systems provide water in places where
people do not remain for long periods of time, such as gas stations and campgrounds. Only regulations
for contaminants that pose immediate health risks (e.g. nitrate and bacteria) apply to these systems.
National Drinking Water Regulations
A key component of SDWA is the requirement that the EPA promulgate
national primary drinking water regulations for contaminants that may pose health
risks and that are likely to be present in public water supplies. Section 1412 instructs
the EPA on how to select contaminants for regulation and specifies how the EPA
must establish regulations once a contaminant has been selected. The regulations
apply to the roughly 168,000 privately and publicly owned water systems that provide
piped water for human consumption to at least 15 service connections or that
regularly serve at least 25 people. The EPA has issued regulations for more than 90
contaminants, including regulations setting new standards for drinking water
disinfectants and their byproducts and for microbial contaminants, a regulation
establishing a standard for uranium in drinking water, and a regulation revising the
standard for arsenic.
Contaminant Selection and Regulatory Schedules. Section 1412, as
amended in 1996, directs the EPA to select contaminants for regulatory consideration
based on occurrence, health effects, and meaningful opportunity for health risk
reduction. Starting in 1998 and then every five years, the EPA must publish a list of
contaminants that may warrant regulation. As of 2001, and every five years
thereafter, the EPA must determine whether or not to regulate at least 5 of the listed
contaminants. The act requires the EPA to evaluate contaminants that present the
greatest health concern and to regulate those contaminants that occur at concentration
levels and frequencies of public health concern. The amendments also included
schedules for the EPA to complete regulations for specific contaminants (i.e., radon,
arsenic, disinfectants and disinfection byproducts and Cryptosporidium).
Standard Setting. For each contaminant that the EPA determines requires
regulation, the EPA must set a nonenforceable maximum contaminant level goal
(MCLG) at a level at which no known or anticipated adverse health effects occur and
which allows an adequate margin of safety. The EPA must then set an enforceable
standard, a maximum contaminant level (MCL), as close to the MCLG as is
“feasible” using best technology, treatment techniques, or other means available
(taking costs into consideration). The agency generally sets standards based on
technologies that are affordable for large communities; however, as amended by P.L.
104-182, the act requires EPA, when issuing a regulation for a contaminant, to list
any technologies or other means that comply with the MCL and that are affordable
for small public water systems serving populations of 10,000 or fewer. If the EPA
does not identify “compliance” technologies that are affordable for small systems,
then it must identify small system “variance” technologies or other means that may
not achieve the MCL but are protective of public health.
The 1996 amendments authorized the EPA to set a standard at other than the
feasible level if the feasible level would lead to an increase in health risks by
increasing the concentration of other contaminants or by interfering with the
treatment processes used to comply with other SDWA regulations. In such cases, the
standard or treatment techniques must minimize the overall health risk. Also, when
proposing a regulation, the EPA now must publish a determination as to whether or
not the benefits of the standard justify the costs. If the EPA determines that the
benefits do not justify the costs, the agency may, with certain exceptions, promulgate
a standard that maximizes health risk reduction benefits at a cost that is justified by
New regulations generally become effective three years after promulgation. Up
to 2 additional years may be allowed if the EPA (or a state in the case of an
individual system) determines the time is needed for capital improvements. (Section
1448 outlines procedures for judicial review of EPA actions involving the
establishment of SDWA regulations and other final EPA actions.)
Risk Assessment. The 1996 amendments also added risk assessment and
risk communication provisions to SDWA. When developing regulations, the EPA
is required to: (1) use the best available, peer-reviewed science and supporting
studies and data; and (2) make publicly available a risk assessment document that
discusses estimated risks, uncertainties, and studies used in the assessment. When
proposing drinking water regulations, the EPA must publish a health risk reduction
and cost analysis (HRRCA). The EPA may promulgate an interim standard without
first preparing this benefit-cost analysis or making a determination as to whether the
benefits of a regulation would justify the costs if the Administrator determines that
a contaminant presents an urgent threat to public health.
Variances and Exemptions. In anticipation that some systems, particularly
smaller ones, could have difficulty complying with every regulation, Congress
included in SDWA provisions for variances and exemptions. Section 1415
authorizes a state to grant a public water system a variance from a standard if raw
water quality prevents meeting the standard despite application of best technology,
and the variance does not result in an unreasonable risk to health. A 1996 provision
(Subsection 1415(e)) authorizes variances specifically for small systems based on
application of best affordable technology. When developing a regulation, if the EPA
cannot identify a technology that meets the standard and is affordable for small
systems, the EPA must identify variance technologies that are affordable but do not
necessarily meet the standard. In cases where the EPA has identified variance
technologies, then states may grant small system variances to systems serving 3,300
or fewer persons if the system cannot afford to comply with a standard (through
treatment, an alternative water source, or restructuring) and the variance ensures
adequate protection of public health. A state may then grant a variance to a small
system, allowing the system to use a variance technology to comply with a
regulation. With EPA approval, states also may grant variances to systems serving
between 3,301 and 10,000 persons. Variances are not available for microbial
contaminants. The EPA has determined that affordable compliance technologies are
available for all existing standards. Thus, small system variances are not available.
Section 1416 authorizes states to grant public water systems temporary
exemptions from standards or treatment techniques if a system cannot comply for
other compelling reasons (including costs). An exemption is intended to give a water
system more time to comply with a regulation and can be issued only if it will not
result in an unreasonable health risk. A qualified system may receive an exemption
for up to three years beyond the compliance deadline. Systems serving 3,300 or
fewer persons may receive a maximum of three additional two-year extensions, for
a total exemption duration of nine years.
Section 1413 authorizes states to assume primary oversight and enforcement
responsibility (primacy) for public water systems. To assume primacy, states must
adopt regulations at least as stringent as national requirements, develop adequate
procedures for enforcement, adopt authority for administrative penalties, maintain
records, and develop a plan for providing safe drinking water under emergency
circumstances. Currently, 55 of 57 states and territories have primacy authority for
the public water system supervision (PWSS) program.
Under Section 1443, Congress authorized appropriations of $100 million
annually for the EPA to make grants to states to administer the PWSS program. This
section directs the EPA, in accordance with regulations, to allot the sums among the
states “on the basis of population, geographical area, number of public water systems,
and other relevant factors.” States are authorized to use a portion of their drinking
water state revolving fund grant (under Section 1452) to cover the costs of
administering the PWSS program.
Enforcement, Consumer Information, and Citizen Suits
The Safe Drinking Water Act requires public water systems to monitor their
water supplies to ensure compliance with drinking water standards and to report
monitoring results to the states. States review monitoring data submitted by public
water systems, and also conduct their own monitoring, to determine system
compliance with drinking water regulations. The EPA monitors public water system
compliance primarily by reviewing the violation data submitted by the states.
Section 1414 requires that, whenever the EPA finds that a public water system
in a state with primary enforcement authority does not comply with regulations, the
agency must notify the state and the system and provide assistance to bring the
system into compliance. If the state fails to commence enforcement action within 30
days after the notification, the EPA is authorized to issue an administrative order or
commence a civil action. In a nonprimacy state, the EPA must notify an elected local
official (if any has jurisdiction over the water system) before commencing an
enforcement action against the system.
The 1996 amendments strengthened enforcement authorities, streamlined the
process for issuing federal administrative orders, increased administrative penalty
amounts, made more sections of the act clearly subject to EPA enforcement, and
required states (as a condition of primacy) to have administrative penalty authority.
The amendments also provided that no enforcement action may be taken against a
public water system that has a plan to consolidate with another system.
Consumer Information and Reports. Enforcement provisions also require
public water systems to notify customers of violations of drinking water standards
or other requirements, such as monitoring and reporting requirements. Systems must
notify customers within 24 hours of any violations that have the potential to cause
serious health effects. Additionally, community water systems must mail to all
customers an annual “consumer confidence report” on contaminants detected in their
drinking water. States are required to prepare annual reports on the compliance of
public water systems and to make summaries available to the EPA and the public; the
EPA must prepare annual national compliance reports (Section 1414(c)).
Citizen Suits. Section 1449 provides for citizens’ civil actions. Citizen suits
may be brought against any person or agency allegedly in violation of provisions of
the act, or against the EPA Administrator for alleged failure to perform any action or
duty which is not discretionary.
Compliance Improvement Programs
The 1996 amendments added two state-administered programs aimed at
improving public water system compliance with drinking water regulations: the
operator certification program and the capacity development program. Section 1419
required states to adopt programs for training and certifying operators of community
and nontransient noncommunity systems (e.g., schools and workplaces that have their
own wells). The EPA is required to withhold 20% of a state’s annual DWSRF grant,
unless the state has adopted and implements an operator certification program.
Relatedly, Section 1420 required states to establish capacity development programs,
also based on EPA guidance. Congress specified that the programs must include (1)
legal authority to ensure that new systems have the technical, financial, and
managerial capacity to meet SDWA requirements; and (2) a strategy to assist existing
systems that are experiencing difficulties to come into compliance. The EPA is
required to withhold a portion of SRF grants from states that do not have capacity
development strategies. The agency has not had to withhold funds under either of
Ground Water Protection Programs
Most public water systems rely on ground water as a source of drinking water,
and Part C of the act focuses on ground water protection.2 Section 1421 authorized
the establishment of state underground injection control (UIC) programs to protect
underground sources of drinking water (USDWs). In 1977, the EPA issued mandated
regulations that contained minimum requirements for state UIC programs to prevent
underground injection that endangers drinking water sources, and that required states
to prohibit any underground injection not authorized by state permit. The law
specified that the regulations could not interfere with the underground injection of
brine from oil and gas production or recovery of oil unless underground sources of
drinking water would be affected.3
Section 1422 authorized affected states to submit plans to the EPA for
implementing UIC programs and, if approved, to assume primary enforcement
responsibility. If a state’s plan has not been approved, or the state has chosen not to
assume program responsibility, then the EPA must implement the program (Section
1423). For oil and gas injection operations only, states with UIC programs are
delegated primary enforcement authority without meeting EPA regulations, provided
states demonstrate that they have an effective program that prevents underground
injection that endangers drinking water sources (Section 1425). To implement this
program, EPA placed UIC wells in five classes based on similarity in the fluids
injected, and construction, injection depth, design, and operating techniques, and
issued regulations that establish performance criteria for each class.4 EPA has
delegated primacy for all classes of wells to 34 states; it shares implementation
responsibility in six states, and implements the UIC program for all well classes in
Subsection 1424(e) authorizes the EPA to make determinations, on EPA’s
initiative or upon petition, that an aquifer is the sole or principal drinking water
source for an area. In areas that overlie a designated sole-source aquifer, no federal
funding may be committed for projects that the EPA determines may contaminate
2 According to the EPA, of roughly 156,600 public water systems, 142,400 rely on ground
water and 14,200 rely on surface water. Among roughly 51,700 community water systems,
3 The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (P.L. 109-58, § 322) amended SDWA § 1421(d) to specify
that the definition of “underground injection” excludes the injection of fluids or propping
agents (other than diesel fuels) used in hydraulic fracturing operations related to oil, gas, or
geothermal production activities.
4 The wells are classified as follows: Class I (inject hazardous wastes, industrial
non-hazardous liquids, or municipal wastewater beneath the lowermost USDW); Class II
(inject brines and other fluids associated with oil and gas production, and hydrocarbons for
storage); Class III (inject fluids associated with solution mining of minerals beneath the
lowermost USDW); Class IV (inject hazardous or radioactive wastes into or above USDWs
and generally are banned); and Class V (all other injection wells — many of these wells
inject non-hazardous fluids into or above USDWs and are typically shallow, on-site disposal
such an aquifer. Any person may petition for sole source aquifer designation.
Nationwide, the EPA had designated 73 sole source aquifers.
The act contains three additional state programs aimed specifically at protecting
ground water. Added in 1986, Section 1427 established procedures for
demonstration programs to develop, implement, and assess critical aquifer protection
areas already designated by the Administrator as sole source aquifers. Section 1428,
also added in 1986, established an elective state program for protecting wellhead
areas around public water system wells. If a state established a wellhead protection
program by 1989, and the EPA approved the state’s program, then the EPA may
award grants covering between 50% and 90% of the costs of implementing the
program. In 1996, Congress added Section 1429, authorizing the EPA to make 50%
grants to states to develop programs to ensure coordinated and comprehensive
protection of ground water within the states. Appropriations for these programs were
authorized through FY2003 as follows: $15 million per year for Section 1427, $30
million per year for Section 1428, and $15 million per year for Section 1429.
Source Water Assessment and Protection Programs
The 1996 amendments expanded the act’s pollution prevention focus to embrace
protection of surface water, as well as ground water. Section 1453 required the EPA
to publish guidance for states to implement source water assessment programs that
delineate boundaries of the areas from which systems receive water, and identify the
origins of contaminants in those areas to determine systems’ susceptibility to
contamination. States with approved assessment programs may adopt alternative
monitoring requirements for water systems, as provided for in Section 1418.
Section 1454 authorized a source water petition program based on voluntary
partnerships between state and local governments. States may establish a program
under which a community water system or local government may submit a petition
to the state requesting assistance in developing a voluntary source water quality
protection partnership to (1) reduce the presence of contaminants in drinking water,
(2) receive financial or technical assistance, and (3) develop a long-term source water
protection strategy. This section authorized $5 million each year for grants to states
to support petition programs. Also, states may use up to 10% of their DWSRF grant
to support various source water protection activities including the petition program.
State Revolving Funds
In 1996, Congress authorized a drinking water state revolving loan fund
(DWSRF) program to help systems finance improvements needed to comply with
SDWA regulations (Section 1452). The EPA is authorized to make grants to states
to capitalize DWSRFs, which states then may use to make loans to public water
systems. States must match 20% of the federal grant. Grants are allotted based on
the results of needs surveys. Each state and the District of Columbia must receive
at least 1% of the appropriated funds.
Drinking water SRFs may be used to provide loans for expenditures that the
EPA has determined will facilitate compliance or significantly further the act’s health
protection objectives. States must make available 15% of their annual allotment for
loan assistance to systems that serve 10,000 or fewer persons, to the extent that funds
can be obligated for eligible projects. States may use up to 30% of their DWSRF
grant to provide loan subsidies (including forgiveness of principal) to help
economically disadvantaged communities. Also, states may use a portion of funds
for technical assistance, source water protection and capacity development programs,
and for operator certification.
The law authorized appropriations of $599 million for FY1994 and $1 billion
per year for FY1995 through FY2003 for DWSRF capitalization grants. The EPA
was directed to reserve, from annual DWSRF appropriations, 0.33% for financial
assistance to several Trusts and Territories, $10 million for health effects research on
drinking water contaminants, $2 million for the costs of monitoring for unregulated
contaminants, and up to 2% for technical assistance. The EPA may use 1.5% of
funds each year for making grants to Indian Tribes and Alaska Native villages.5
Drinking Water Security
The 107th Congress passed the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism
Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-188) to address a wide range of
security issues. Title IV of the Bioterrorism Act amended SDWA to address threats
to drinking water security. Key provisions are summarized below.
Vulnerability Assessments. Under new SDWA Section 1433, each
community water system serving more than 3,300 people was required to conduct an
assessment of the system’s vulnerability to terrorist attacks or other intentional acts
intended to disrupt the provision of a safe and reliable drinking water supply. This
provision established deadlines, based on system size, for community water systems
to certify to the EPA that they had conducted a vulnerability assessment and to
submit to the EPA a copy of the assessment. Section 1433 exempted the contents of
the vulnerability assessments from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act
(except for information contained in the certification identifying the system and the
date of the certification), and it provides for civil and criminal penalties for
inappropriate disclosure of information by government officials.
Section 1433 further required each of these community water systems to prepare
an emergency response plan incorporating the results of the vulnerability assessment.
The EPA was directed to provide guidance to smaller systems on how to conduct
vulnerability assessments, prepare emergency response plans, and address threats.
Section 1433(e) authorized the appropriation of $160 million for FY2002, and
such sums as may be necessary for FY2003 through FY2005, to provide financial
assistance to community water systems to conduct vulnerability assessments, to
prepare response plans, and for expenses and contracts to address basic security
enhancements and significant threats.
5 For more information, see CRS Report RS22037, Drinking Water State Revolving Fund:
Program Overview and Issues, by Mary Tiemann.
The Bioterrorism Act also added Sections 1434 and 1435 to SDWA, directing
the EPA Administrator to review methods by which terrorists or others could disrupt
the provision of safe water supplies. The provisions requires the EPA to review
methods for preventing, detecting, and responding to such disruptions, and methods
for providing alternative drinking water supplies if a water system was destroyed or
impaired. Section 1435(e) authorized $15 million for FY2002, and such sums as may
be necessary for FY2003 through FY2005 to carry out Sections 1434 and 1435.
Emergency Powers. Under Section 1431, the Administrator has emergency
powers to issue orders and commence civil action if (1) a contaminant likely to enter
a public drinking water supply system poses a substantial threat to public health, and
(2) state or local officials have not taken adequate action. The Bioterrorism Act
amended this section to specify that EPA’s emergency powers include the authority
to act when there is a threatened or potential terrorist attack or other intentional act
to disrupt the provision of safe drinking water or to impact the safety of a
community’s drinking water supply.
Tampering with Public Water Systems. Section 1432 provides for civil
and criminal penalties against any person who tampers, attempts to tamper, or makes
a threat to tamper with a public water system. Amendments made by the Bioterrorism
Act increased criminal and civil penalties for tampering, attempting to tamper, or
making threats to tamper with public water supplies. The maximum prison sentence
for tampering increased from 5 to 20 years. The maximum prison sentence for
attempting to tamper, or making threats to tamper, increased from 3 to 10 years. The
maximum fine that may be imposed for tampering increased from $50,000 to $1
million. The maximum fine for attempting to tamper, or threatening to tamper,
increased from $20,000 to $100,000.
Emergency Assistance. SDWA Subsection 1442(b) authorizes the EPA to
provide technical assistance and to make grants to states and public water systems to
assist in responding to and alleviating emergency situations. The Bioterrorism Act
amended Subsection 1442(d) to authorize appropriations for such emergency
assistance of not more than $35 million for FY2002, and such sums as may be
necessary for each fiscal year thereafter.
Additional SDWA Provisions
Lead-free Plumbing. Section 1417 prohibits the use of any pipe, solder, or
flux used in the installation or repair of public water systems or plumbing in
residential or nonresidential facilities providing drinking water that is not “lead free”
(as defined in the act). This section also makes it unlawful to sell pipes, plumbing
fittings or fixtures that are not lead free, or to sell solder or flux that is not lead free
(unless it is properly labeled), with the exception of pipes used in manufacturing or
industrial processing.6 Section 1417(e), added in 1996, directed EPA to promulgate
regulations setting health-based performance standards limiting the amount of lead
6 §1417(d) defines “lead free” to mean not more than 0.2% lead for solders and fluxes, and
not more than 8% lead for pipes and pipe fittings.
that may leach from new plumbing fittings and fixtures, unless a voluntary standard
was established within one year of enactment. A voluntary standard was established.
Research, Technical Assistance, and Training. Section 1442 authorizes
the EPA to conduct research, studies, and demonstrations related to the causes,
treatment, control, and prevention of diseases resulting from contaminants in water.
The agency is directed to provide technical assistance to the states and municipalities
in administering their public water system regulatory responsibilities. This section
authorized $15 million annually for technical assistance to small systems and Indian
Tribes, and $25 million for health effects research. (Title II of P.L. 104-182, the
not to exceed $26.6 million annually for FY1997 through FY2003.)
Demonstration Grants. The Administrator may make grants to develop and
demonstrate new technologies for providing safe drinking water and to investigate
health implications involved in the reclamation/reuse of waste waters (Section 1444).
Records, Inspections, and Monitoring. Section 1445 states that persons
subject to requirements under SDWA must establish and maintain records, conduct
water monitoring, and provide any information that the Administrator may require
by regulation to carry out the requirements of the act. Section 1445(b) authorizes the
Administrator or a representative, after notifying the state in writing, to enter and
inspect the property of water suppliers or other persons subject to the act’s
requirements, to determine whether the person is in compliance with the act. Failure
to comply with these provisions may result in civil penalties.
This section also directs the EPA to promulgate regulations establishing the
criteria for a monitoring program for unregulated contaminants. Beginning in 1999
and every five years thereafter, the EPA must issue a list of not more than 30
unregulated contaminants to be monitored by public water systems. States are
permitted to develop representative monitoring plan to assess the occurrence of
unregulated contaminants in small systems, and the section authorized $10 million
to be appropriated for each of FY1999 through FY2003 to provide grants to cover the
costs of monitoring for small systems. All monitoring results are to be included in
a national drinking water occurrence data base created under the 1996 amendments.
National Drinking Water Advisory Council. The act established a
National Drinking Water Advisory Council, composed of 15 members (with at least
two representing rural systems), to advise, consult, and make recommendations to the
Administrator on activities and policies derived from the act (Section 1446).
Federal Agencies. Any federal agency having jurisdiction over federally
owned public water systems must comply with all federal, state and local drinking
water requirements as well as any underground injection control programs. The act
provides for waivers in the interest of national security (Section 1447).
Assistance to Colonias.7 Added in 1996, Section 1456 authorized the EPA
and other appropriate federal agencies to award grants to Arizona, California, New
Mexico and Texas to provide assistance (not more than 50% of project costs) to
colonias where the residents are subject to a significant health risk attributable to the
lack of access to an adequate and affordable drinking water system. Congress
authorized appropriations of $25 million for each of fiscal years 1997 through 1999.
Estrogenic Substances. Section 1547 authorized the EPA to use the
estrogenic substances screening program created in the Food Quality Protection Act
of 1996 (P.L. 104-170) to provide for testing of substances that may be found in
drinking water if the Administrator determines that a substantial population may be
exposed to such substances.
Drinking Water Studies. Section 1458 directed the EPA to conduct drinking
water studies involving subpopulations at greater risk and biological mechanisms.
EPA also was directed to conduct studies to support specific regulations, including
those for disinfectants and disinfection byproducts and Cryptosporidium.
Selected P.L. 104-182 Provisions Not Amending SDWA
The 104th Congress included a variety of drinking water-related provisions in
the 1996 SDWA Amendments that did not amend the Safe Drinking Water Act.
Several of these provisions are described below.
Transfer of Funds. Section 302 authorized states to transfer as much as 33%
of their annual drinking water state revolving fund grant to the Clean Water Act
(CWA) SRF, or an equivalent amount from the CWA SRF to the DWSRF through
FY2001. (In subsequent conference reports for EPA appropriations, Congress has
authorized states to continue transferring funds.)
Grants to Alaska. Section 303 of the 1996 amendments authorized the EPA
to make grants to the State of Alaska to pay 50% of the costs of improving sanitation
for rural and Alaska Native villages. Grants are for construction of public water and
wastewater systems, and for training and technical assistance programs.
Appropriations were authorized at $15 million for each of fiscal years 1997 through
2000. (In P.L. 106-457, Congress reauthorized appropriations for these rural
sanitation grants at a level of $40 million for each of fiscal years 2001 through 2005.)
Bottled Water. Section 305 revised section 410 of the Federal Food, Drug,
and Cosmetic Act to require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue
bottled drinking water standards for contaminants regulated under SDWA within 180
days after the EPA promulgates the new standards, unless the Secretary determines
that a standard is not necessary.
7 Colonias generally are described as unincorporated communities or housing developments
on the U.S. side of the U.S.-Mexico border that lack some or all basic infrastructure
including plumbing and public water and sewer.
Wastewater Assistance to Colonias. Section 307 authorized EPA to
make grants to colonias for wastewater treatment works. Appropriations were
authorized at $25 million for each of fiscal years 1997 through 1999.
Additional Infrastructure Funding. Section 401 authorized additional
assistance, up to $50 million for each of fiscal years 1997 through 2003, for a grant
program for infrastructure and watershed protection projects.
U.S. Congressional Budget Office. Trends in Public Spending on Transportation and
Water Infrastructure, 1956 to 2004. Pub. No. 2880. August 2007. 38 p.
National Research Council. Health Implications of Perchlorate Ingestion. Board on
Environmental Studies and Toxicology. National Academies Press. January
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Water. Drinking Water State
Revolving Fund: Increasing Impact, 2006 Annual Report. EPA 816-R-07-002,
June 2007. 44 p.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Water. Drinking Water
Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment: Third Report to Congress. EPA
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Enforcement and Compliance
Assurance. Providing Safe Drinking Water in America: 2002 National Public
Water Systems Compliance Report. EPA 305-R-04-001. December 2004. 96
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Water. Small System Guide to
Safe Drinking Water Act Regulations: The First STEP to Providing Safe
Drinking Water. EPA 816-R-03-017. September 2003. 35 p.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Water. The Clean Water and
Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap Analysis Report. EPA 816-R-02-020.
September 2002. 50 p.
Table 5. U.S. Code Sections of the Safe Drinking Water Act
(Title XIV of the Public Health Service Act)
(42 U.S.C. 300f-300j-26)
42 U.S.C.Section TitleWater Act
Subchapter XIISafety of Public Drinking Water Systems
Part BPublic Water Systems
300g-1National drinking water regulationssec. 1412
300g-2State primary enforcement responsibilitysec. 1413
300g-3Enforcement of drinking water regulationssec. 1414
300g-6Prohibitions on the use of lead pipes, solder,and fluxsec. 1417
300g-9Capacity developmentsec. 1420
Part CProtection of Underground Sources of Drinking Water
300hRegulations for state programssec. 1421
300h-1State primary enforcement responsibilitysec. 1422
300h-2Enforcement of programsec. 1423
300h-3Interim regulation of underground injectionssec. 1424
300h-4Optional demonstration by states relating tooil and natural gassec. 1425
300h-6Sole source aquifer demonstration programsec. 1427
300h-7aState programs to establish wellheadprotection areassec. 1428
300h-8aState ground water protection grantssec. 1429
Part DEmergency Powers
300iEmergency powerssec. 1431
300i-2Terrorist and other intentional actssec. 1433
300i-3Contaminant prevention, detection, andresponsesec. 1434
300i-4aSupply disruption prevention, detection andresponsesec. 1435
Part EGeneral Provisions
300jAssurance of availability of adequate suppliesof chemicals necessary for treatment of watersec. 1441
300j-1aResearch, technical assistance, informationsec. 1442
42 U.S.C.Section TitleWater Act
300j-3aSpecial project grants and guaranteed loanssec. 1444
300j-4aRecords and inspectionssec. 1445
300j-5National Drinking Water Advisory Councilsec. 1446
300j-6Federal agenciessec. 1447
300j-7Judicial reviewssec. 1448
300j-8Citizen civil actionssec. 1449
300j-9General provisionssec. 1450
300j-11Indian Tribessec. 1451
300j-12aState revolving loan fundssec. 1452
300j-13Source water quality assessmentsec. 1453
300j-14aSource water petition programsec. 1454
300j-15Water conservation plansec. 1455
300j-16aAssistance to coloniassec. 1456
300j-17Estrogenic substances screening programsec. 1457
300j-18aDrinking water studiessec. 1458
Part FAdditional Requirements to Regulate the Safety of DrinkingWater
300j-22Recall of drinking water coolers with lead-lined tankssec. 1462
300j-23Drinking water coolers containing leadsec. 1463
300j-24Lead contamination in school drinking watersec. 1464
300j-26Certification of testing laboratories
Note: This table shows only the major code sections. For more detail and to determine when a
section was added, the reader should consult the official printed version of the U.S. Code.
a. These sections include authorizations of appropriations.
b. This provision was added by the Lead Contamination Control Act (P.L. 100-572, sec. 4),which did
not amend SDWA.