The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced on July 18th that it will increase its monitoring of state drinking water programs to ensure compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act . Last year, nineteen percent of public water systems (PWSs) were reported by their states to be in noncompliance with at least one monitoring or reporting rule, forty percent of those being the Total Coliform Rule. This regulation requires monitoring and reporting of total coliforms, a type of bacteria that are not technically toxic to humans, but act as an indicator level of possible toxic pathogens in a water source.
These numbers come from the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS), a platform for states to report to the EPA on PWSs who violate monitoring and reporting requirements. One finding spurring EPA's greater oversight is that states are not diligently reporting drinking water quality information in SDWIS. Therefore, the number of PWSs violating water quality requirements is likely much higher.
Improving the state water monitoring and reporting systems is a major step towards ensuring that unsuitable drinking water is discovered and treated before people are adversely affected. This report from the EPA came the same week that Congressman Steve Cohen, 9th District of Tennessee, wrote to the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, after the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) found arsenic in groundwater near the source of Memphis’s drinking water. Though the TVA states that their power plant, believed to be the source of the contaminants, will not affect drinking water, Congressman Cohen has asked for more information to support that conclusion.
Following their review of primacy agency data collected from 2012, the EPA found that of the twelve states reviewed, seven (Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland and North Carolina) did not even fulfill half of the eight major reporting requirements in their SDWIS entries. Regions 6 and 7, comprised of Kansas, Texas, and Louisiana, were the only regions to complete all eight tests. In order to ensure that states are conducting the necessary water quality tests and reporting their findings, the EPA is exploring ways to making the reporting process easier and will be playing a more active role in overseeing and monitoring states' compliance with monitoring and reporting requirements. In 2016, the Office of Water created the Compliance Monitoring Data Portal which will allow PWSs to report their data electronically to their state agencies. At least seven states are expected to start using this portal by the end of 2017. The EPA is also overhauling SDWIS to launch SDWIS Prime, a more user friendly reporting platform.
Monitoring and reporting of drinking water quality is essential to keeping Americans safe and healthy. Greater oversight will ensure that states collect and report the necessary data, hopefully preventing the type of public health crisis that occurred in Flint.