News Feature | May 5, 2017

Takeaways From Safe Drinking Water Report Highlight National Issues

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome

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A major report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found a surprising number of violations to tap water by drinking water systems in every state.

The advocacy and research group issued a major report this week analyzing violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and tallying up which states were least compliant. The group said it founding a “stunning” number of SDWA violations.

Among the major findings, per the NRDC report, titled “Threats on Tap: Widespread Violations Highlight Need for Investment in Water Infrastructure and Protections”:

Our analysis shows that in 2015 alone, there were more than 80,000 reported violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act by community water systems. Nearly 77 million people were served by more than 18,000 of these systems with violations in 2015.

These violations included exceeding health-based standards, failing to properly test water for contaminants, and failing to report contamination to state authorities or the public. What’s worse, 2015 saw more than 12,000 health-based violations in some 5,000 community water systems serving more than 27 million people.

The report included a searchable database mapping violations, by type, across the country.

The report found that disinfection byproducts are a major problem plaguing water systems across the country. “In 2015, there were 11,311 violations (4,591 health-based) at community water systems serving 25,173,431 people (12,584,936 health-based),” the report said.

The report also found widespread violations of the following rules:

  • Total coliform rule;
  • Combined surface, groundwater, and filter backwash rules;
  • Nitrates and nitrates rule;
  • Lead and copper rule;
  • Radionuclides rule;
  • Arsenic rule;
  • Synthetic organic contaminants rule;
  • Inorganic contaminants rule;
  • Volatile organic contaminants rule;
  • Public notification rule;
  • Right to know (“consumer confidence”) report rule.

A press release issued by NRDC highlighted which states had the most violations, based on population:

  1. Texas
  2. Florida
  3. Pennsylvania
  4. New Jersey
  5. Georgia
  6. Washington
  7. Ohio
  8. California
  9. Arizona
  10. Kentucky
  11. Wisconsin
  12. Maryland

The report made the following recommendations for combating unsafe tap water:

  1. Improve water infrastructure and modernize drinking water treatment plants. This includes removing the 6 million to 10 million lead service lines across the country.
  2. Increase funding for water infrastructure to protect health and create good jobs. Congress should increase water infrastructure funding, which will also create millions of well-paid jobs fixing the nation’s water system.
  3. Strengthen and enforce existing regulations, and establish new ones. Many contaminants found in drinking water — including pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals — are not regulated, leaving everyone with potentially unsafe drinking water.
  4. Develop a more robust testing system for drinking water contaminants.

In a news report on the NRDC findings, Asbury Park Press noted that despite the alarming results, panic may not be necessary.

“Violating the SDWA doesn't necessarily mean the tap water is dangerous. For most consumers, a breach in the rules means their utility wasn't testing or monitoring the water sufficiently, not that they need to run out and buy bottled water by the gallon,” the report said.

For similar stories visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Regulations And Legislation Solutions Center.

Image credit: "water droplets," ethan sztuhar © 2013, used under an Attribution 2.0 Generic license: