Podcast | December 11, 2013

Expert Analysis: Do Our Water Systems Make The Grade?


Water Online Radio sits down with water expert G. Tracy Mehan, a principal with the Cadmus Group and former Assistant Administrator for Water at the U.S. EPA, to get an overview of the progress and challenges facing the water and wastewater industry.

<iframe src="http://www.wateronline.com/player/31e5dbed-aaee-463d-b98f-f8a8f77edc83" frameborder="0"></iframe>

The following is an excerpt from a Q&A with Water Online Radio. Click on the Radio Player above to hear the full interview.

Water Online Radio: Tracy, regarding your role at the EPA about a decade ago: As you look back at the Safe Drinking Water Act and Clean Water Act programs, how are they doing and what kind of progress are they making?

Tracy: The Safe Drinking Water Act program has done very well. All the studies and the performance measures indicate that most of our water systems, over 90 percent, are meeting all national standards for drinking water. We have 52,000 community water systems in this country. There are about 400 of them that serve about 80 percent of the population.

Under the Clean Water Act, it has been a very successful 40 years. We have to keep in mind that it’s been a very successful program directed at a very targeted end. The end was to regulate what we call point source discharge, the traditional pipes in the water. That’s how we cleaned up the Great Lakes and restored the Potomac. That’s why people can enjoy so many shorelines, lakes, and rivers.

The problem is the law wasn’t designed to deal with the whole watershed very effectively. As we’ve ratcheted down on those point source discharges, we now confront what we call non-point source or diffuse runoff from anything from rural crop agriculture to storm water runoff, or everything that human beings do from the landscape that can affect water quality.

When people say it’s not working, it worked exactly how it was designed. The problem was the design didn’t encompass the full watershed. That being said, they’ve been successful, but now we’ve got to come up with new ways to accomplish our mission of better water quality. One common problem in the clean drinking water area and the clean water area is the long-term financing of an aging infrastructure base. That’s a topic itself.

Click on the Radio Player at the top of the page to hear the full interview.