NSWA Join Renew
See More See More
<< Back to News

EPA Administrator Outlines Plans for Stronger Water Protection Rules -Oklahoma’s Jim Inhofe Concerned about proposals

Administrator Lisa Jackson said the Environmental Protection Agency is developing a broad set of strategies to strengthen public health protection from contaminants in drinking water.

Jackson, in a speech before the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies' annual meeting in Washington, D.C., said EPA wants to find solutions that meet the health and economic needs of communities more quickly and cost effectively than the current approach.

The administrator said the shift in drinking water strategy would:

– Address contaminants as a group, rather than individually, so that enhancement of drinking water protection can be achieved cost-effectively.

– Foster development of new drinking water treatment technologies to address health risks posed by a broad array of contaminants.

– Use EPA's powers under multiple statutes to help protect drinking water.

– And partner with states to share more complete data from monitoring of public water systems.

Jackson said EPA's current approach to drinking water protection is focused on assessing individual contaminants and can take many years. She said that has resulted in slow progress in addressing unregulated contaminants and has failed to enhance health protection cost-effectively, including the use of advanced treatment technologies that address several contaminants at once.

Jackson also said that within the next year EPA would revise the existing drinking water standards for four contaminants that can cause cancer: tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, acrylamide and epichlorohydrin.

The agency said tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene are used in industrial and/or textile processing and can be introduced into drinking water from contaminated ground or surface water sources. Acrylamide and epichlorohydrin are impurities that can be introduced into drinking water during the water treatment process.

EPA said it also is considering revisions for 14 other drinking water standards, including lead and copper; chromium, fluoride, arsenic, and atrazine; and perchlorate.

Tom Curtis, AWWA deputy executive director, said, "AWWA applauds EPA's stated intention to draw on multiple statutes to protect our precious water sources from contamination and supports leveraging the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act and the Toxic Substances Control Act to limit pollution in groundwater and surface water. AWWA is also encouraged by the agency's intent to foster the development of new treatment technologies."

James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the senior Republican on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said he was concerned about EPA's proposed methodology.

Inhofe said, "Using the Safe Drinking Water Act to 'leverage' other statutes that regulate chemicals is not the most effective way to provide safe drinking water or regulate chemicals."

Inhofe said he wants to know whether EPA assessed the impact on small, rural drinking water systems and whether it sought input from stakeholders such as farmers and small businesses.

Water, Sewer Funding

The U.S. Conference of Mayors has predicted that water and sewer rates for American households will double or quadruple over the next 20 years.

In a report, it said future spending for public water and wastewater systems will range between $2.5 and $4.8 trillion over 2009 to 2028, compared to $1.6 trillion over the past 53 years.

The report said more than 95% of total expenditures for public water and wastewater infrastructure are made by cities. It said, "In 2008 local government spent $93 billion on water and sewer services and infrastructure, while Congress provided only $2 billion in grants to states, who then disbursed the money in the form of loans to local governments which have to be paid back with interest."

The report said that current federal financial assistance programs are fragmented and are not targeted to metro-urban areas that the nation depends on for employment, economic growth, and environmental stewardship. It said the State Revolving Fund loan program is inadequate and has received flat funding during a period when the federal government dramatically increased mandates on local governments.

The study said the combination of unfunded federal mandates and increased costs related to population growth, urbanization, and aging infrastructure "are forcing local governments onto a spending treadmill where ever-growing annual investments may not be sufficient to guarantee safe, affordable and adequate supplies and services or meet state and federal requirements."

Tom Cochran, CEO and executive director of the Conference of Mayors, said, "The bottom line is that our federal water and wastewater programs must be reformed and directly fund our cities to meet these challenges. Otherwise, families will be hit with unrealistic bills they cannot afford."

 By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent