Governmental Oversight

Government regulation of potable water use falls into two categories. The Clean Water Act (CWA), originally enacted in 1972 and subsequently amended, covers discharge of waste-water. It established the basic framework for regulation of pollutant release into U.S. waters and provided the authority to execute plans to control pollution (EPA, n.d.). This act established water pollution guidelines, particularly water quality standards for industrial wastewater.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), passed in 1974 and amended in 1986 and 1996, is the basis for current water standards, state-based enforcement (except in Washington, DC, and Wyoming), and public notification related to drinking water (EPA,n.d.).This act defined the public water system, which now serves more than 80% of the population (EPA, 2003b).

According to the SDWA, there were approximately 170,000 public water systems in the United States in 2003 (EPA, 2000).

In addition, Congress passed a plethora of amendments, including the Total Coliform Rule, the Surface Water Treatment Rule, and the Bioterrorism Act of 2002, each addressing specific drinking water contaminants. These statutes required the EPA to establish specific rules and regulations to ensure that drinking water supplies do not pose a health risk, either acute or chronic. The EPA has established maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) for 83 contaminants known to pose a public health risk. The EPA also has acted to raise public awareness, designated laboratories that are permitted to culture for selected agents, and developed vulnerability assessments for water systems (EPA, n.d.).The combined objectives of governmental legislation are to set safety standards, develop monitoring procedures, and collect data into a national database.

Under these combined regulations, the EPA interacts closely with public utilities and other government agencies to develop clean water protocols and environmental standards. Water from the system source cannot leave the treatment plant without meeting certain health standards. The type and extent of treatment varies from source to source, depending on the initial quality of the source water, the geographic region, and the service area. Types of treatment procedures include clarification, filtration, and disinfection. Treatment practices are fairly uniform, despite minor variations related to local ordinances. As such, municipal water utilities are subject to regular water supply testing for both contaminants and microorganisms. Depending on the size of the facility and availability of testing equipment, each facility can either perform the testing in house or have its testing done through a contract laboratory. We will not discuss treatment techniques in detail.

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