Safe Drinking Water Act

Safe Drinking Water Act in the United States

Safe Drinking Water Act

42 U.S.C. § 300 : US Code – Section 300: Project grants and contracts for family planning services

This description of the Safe Drinking Water Act tracks the language of the U.S. Code, except that, sometimes, we use plain English and that we may refer to the “Act” (meaning Safe Drinking Water Act) rather than to the “subchapter” or the “title” of the United States Code.

U.S. Code Citation

42 U.S.C. § 300

U.S. Code Section and Head

  • United States Code – Section 300
  • Head of the Section:

    Project grants and contracts for family planning services

Text of the Section

(a) Authority of Secretary The Secretary is authorized to make grants to and enter into contracts with public or nonprofit private entities to assist in the establishment and operation of voluntary family planning projects which shall offer a broad range of acceptable and effective family planning methods and services (including natural family planning methods, infertility services, and services for adolescents). To the extent practical, entities which receive grants or contracts under this subsection shall encourage familiy (!1) participation in projects assisted under this subsection. (b) Factors determining awards; establishment and preservation of rights of local and regional entities In making grants and contracts under this section the Secretary shall take into account the number of patients to be served, the extent to which family planning services are needed locally, the relative need of the applicant, and its capacity to make rapid and effective use of such assistance. Local and regional entities shall be assured the right to apply for direct grants and contracts under this section, and the Secretary shall by regulation fully provide for and protect such right. (c) Reduction of grant amount The Secretary, at the request of a recipient of a grant under subsection (a) of this section, may reduce the amount of such grant by the fair market value of any supplies or equipment furnished the grant recipient by the Secretary. The amount by which any such grant is so reduced shall be available for payment by the Secretary of the costs incurred in furnishing the supplies or equipment on which the reduction of such grant is based. Such amount shall be deemed as part of the grant and shall be deemed to have been paid to the grant recipient. (d) Authorization of appropriations For the purpose of making grants and contracts under this section, there are authorized to be appropriated $30,000,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1971; $60,000,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1972; $111,500,000 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 1973, $111,500,000 each for the fiscal years ending June 30, 1974, and June 30, 1975; $115,000,000 for fiscal year 1976; $115,000,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1977; $136,400,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1978; $200,000,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1979; $230,000,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1980; $264,500,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1981; $126,510,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1982; $139,200,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1983; $150,830,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1984; and $158,400,000 for the fiscal year ending September 30, 1985.

Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in Environmental Law

Passed in 1974, this law regulates water quality in public water supply (PWS) systems but does not cover some small systems and excludes private drinking water sources such as private wells. The goals of the SDWA are to ensure that water from the tap is safe to drink and protect groundwater from contamination. It is the only law that directly deals with groundwater quality, though two other laws, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, provide for cleanup of contaminated groundwater. Government officials rely on the SDWA’s standards during a cleanup to determine the acceptable level of contaminants.

The public water supply systems covered by the SDWA are those serving at least 25 people having at least 15 service connections. When determining whether the system fits the definition, the key is whether an average of 25 individuals use the water daily at least 60 days a year. It does not matter how the water is used, as long as human consumption is anticipated. Thus, it includes water supplies used for bathing, cooking, dishwashing, and oral hygiene. It also includes water supplies for schools, factories, and offices.

National Primary Drinking Water Standards

Under the law, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets two types of drinking water standards, the National Primary Drinking Water Standards and the National Secondary Drinking Water Standards. The primary standards are enforceable because they relate to health; the secondary standards are not enforceable because they deal with aesthetics. The SDWA lists 83 contaminants for which the EPA was required to set drinking water standards. The EPA must also identify more contaminants for regulation every three years.

The primary standards establish maximum contaminant levels (MCLs). MCLs are usually numerical limits, stated in terms of milligrams of a designated pollutant per liter of water. If the maximum contaminant level cannot be economically or technically determined for a particular contaminant, the EPA specifies treatment technology that will assure a dependable, safe water supply. Before setting the National Primary Drinking Water Standards, the EPA goes through an involved process to set maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs). A goal is defined in the regulations and statute as the “maximum level of a contaminant in drinking water at which no known or anticipated adverse effect on the health of persons would occur, and which allows an adequate margin of safety.” MCLGs are not enforceable; they are the ideals by which the MCL standards are measured.

For noncarcinogens, the goal for each contaminant is set by referring to a “reference dose,” which is an estimate of the amount of a contaminant to which a person could be exposed everyday during a lifetime without an appreciable risk of having negative health effects. The EPA assumes that a person will drink two liters of water a day for seventy years.

If the contaminant is a carcinogen, the goal is determined differently. For chemicals that are strongly carcinogenic, the goal is automatically zero, because the EPA cannot decide a safe level of exposure. If the evidence about the contaminant’s carcinogenic properties is limited, the EPA uses the reference dose described above, but adds an extra margin of safety to account for possible cancer effects.

After the maximum contaminant level goals are set, the EPA must establish the enforceable limits, the maximum containment levels. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires the EPA to set them as close as “feasible” to the MCLGs. The statute goes on to define what Congress meant by “feasible”: “the term means feasible with the use of the best technology, treatment techniques, and other means … after examination for efficacy under field conditions and not solely under laboratory conditions, are available, taking cost into consideration.” [SDWA, _1412(5)] Using the statute as a roadmap, the EPA considers the following factors while setting the MCLs: (1) technological removal efficiencies, compatibility with other water treatments, and availability; (2) degree to which a specified technology can remove the contaminant in a large water supply system with relatively clean raw water; (3) cost of technology use to large public water suppliers and the nation if the technology is the basis of the MCL; and (4) whether testing laboratories could accurately and consistently determine the contaminant level. The EPA also considers whether the MCL, if based on a particular technology, is protective of human health.

When the EPA sets the MCL for a contaminant, it is required to also publish the maximum contaminant level goal and specify the treatment technology used as the basis for the MCL. Public water suppliers need not use that specific technology if an MCL exists; they need only meet the numerical standard.

If the EPA decides it is economically or technologically unfeasible to determine an MCL for a specific contaminant, it can require the use of a particular technology. However, the aim is still to get the level of contaminants as close as possible to the maximum contaminant level goals. Selection of a technology would be done with the goal in mind, as opposed to an MCL.

The SDWA directs the EPA to establish two additional standards that apply to public water suppliers that draw their raw water from surface waters or groundwater that is closely influenced by surface water. Those standards govern filtration and disinfection. The EPA published the regulations in 1989. It requires states to analyze each public water supply within its borders and determine which systems are subject to the rules. The filtration and disinfection standards are the only two National Primary Drinking Water Standards that currently specify treatment technology in lieu of MCLs.

A public water supply can get a variance or exemption from the standards because of cost or availability of technology and quality of the raw water supply. Exemptions and variances are considered critical to the survival of some small public water supply systems. However, any variances or exemptions must require eventual compliance and cannot be granted if the water would pose an unreasonable risk to health. Hearings must be held before variances or exemptions can be allowed.

Most states have legal authority to enforce if a public water supply is out of compliance with the primary standards. Even in states with delegated programs, the EPA cannot enforce unless it first notifies the state about the violation and gives it thirty days to act. However, the EPA may act immediately if imminent or substantial danger to the public exists.

Public water supplies that are in violation of the standards are subject to penalties, but they must also notify their customers and the government. Notices of most violations must be published in the newspaper, with a follow-up in the mail. If an acute risk to the public may result, radio and television announcements are necessary.

Lead and Copper Elimination

Lead and Copper Elimination

The SDWA addresses a contaminant that plagues many public water supplies: lead. Lead has leached into water supplies from lead pipes or pipes repaired using lead. Particularly harmful to children, lead has been linked

to severe damage to intelligence as well as acute poisoning. Effective 16 June 1986, repairs to public water supplies and new installations must be lead free. When a lead problem exists, those who manage public water supplies must inform their customers of the problem and its source, the adverse effects, ways to eliminate the lead, measures being taken to solve the problem, and whether an alternate water supply should be obtained.

Copper may also leach into drinking water from pipes. It has not been as highly regulated as lead, but the EPA has added it to the regulations that deal with lead. Copper must be measured along with lead, and public water supplies must have a program that reduces corrosion in pipes. If the lead or copper in drinking water from taps is above the action level set by the EPA, treatment is required. The states work with the public water supplies to determine what type of corrosion control treatments must be used.

Underground Injection Control (UIC)

Concerned that injection wells would contaminate the groundwater, Congress established a permitting system for those that might endanger an underground source of drinking water as an important component of the SDWA [see underground injection control]. The permitting system, like the rest of the SDWA requirements, is primarily the responsibility of the states.

Underground injection wells include any structure, shaft, or hole deeper than it is wide in which fluids are placed. Fluids are any substance that moves. Before a new well is constructed, the person who wants to use it must apply for a permit. The regulating agency, either the EPA or the state, will consider the structural integrity of the well and emplacement of fluids. The regulating agency will also consider the topography and geological characteristics of the location. The requirements for underground injection wells depend on the nearness of the well to drinking water sources and the type of fluids to be injected.

Some well injections are not regulated by permit, either because the groundwater is already heavily contaminated or because the presence of the well would neither impact the public water supply’s ability to meet the National Primary Drinking Water Standards nor adversely affect human health. The permit program’s emphasis is on preventing endangerment of drinking water. It protects only underground sources of drinking water, so the groundwater must actually be or reasonably be expected to become a source of drinking water.

Hazardous waste injection is governed by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, but a SDWA permit is also required. The SDWA permit system divides underground injection wells into five classes. Class I wells are those that inject fluids below the lowest level of a drinking water formation. Class II wells are used by the oil and gas industry, usually to inject water produced during extraction. Class III wells are used by mining industries for fluids used to aid in extraction of ore. Class IV wells are no longer allowed but were previously used for hazardous waste and radioactive material. Class V wells include all other underground injection wells, such as cesspools, septic systems, and wells associated with recovery of geothermal energy. They are authorized by rule instead of by a specific permit, but the owner must notify the government of their existence.

Miscellaneous Provisions

SDWA encourages development of wellhead protection programs to prevent contamination of wells that supply public water supplies, and grants are given to states that develop programs. So far slightly more than half of the states have some type of wellhead protection programs. The program must include the designation of agencies that will carry out the duties and state what the duties are; establish the area around wellheads that need protection; identify potential sources of contamination within the wellhead area; specify a plan to protect the area from the specified contaminants; and include a contingency plan to obtain alternate water supplies if contamination occurs.

Another provision of the SDWA establishes the EPA’s authority to designate some aquifers as sole source aquifers. Once an aquifer is classified a sole source aquifer, no federal financial assistance can be given to any project that might damage it. The law also provided for grants to states that had designated sole source aquifers by 1988, but Congress never appropriated funds for the grants. The major reason for having a sole source aquifer is political: it reinforces public awareness of the value of the drinking water source.
Based on “Environment and the Law. A Dictionary”.

Safe Drinking Water Act in State Statute Topics

Introduction to Safe Drinking Water Act (State statute topic)

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Further Reading

Safe Drinking Water Act: Open and Free Legal Research of US Law

Federal Primary Materials

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Federal primary materials about Safe Drinking Water Act by content types:

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Executive Materials

Federal Legislative History Materials

Legislative history traces the legislative process of a particular bill (about Safe Drinking Water Act and other subjects) for the main purpose of determining the legislators’ intent behind the enactment of a law to explain or clarify ambiguities in the language or the perceived meaning of that law (about Safe Drinking Water Act or other topics), or locating the current status of a bill and monitoring its progress.

State Administrative Materials and Resources

State regulations are rules and procedures promulgated by state agencies (which may apply to Safe Drinking Water Act and other topics); they are a binding source of law. In addition to promulgating regulations, state administrative boards and agencies often have judicial or quasi-judicial authority and may issue administrative decisions affecting Safe Drinking Water Act. Finding these decisions can be challenging. In many cases, researchers about Safe Drinking Water Act should check state agency web sites for their regulations, decisions, forms, and other information of interest.

State rules and regulations are found in codes of regulations and administrative codes (official compilation of all rules and regulations, organized by subject matter). Search here:

State opinions of the Attorney General (official written advisory opinions on issues of state law related to Safe Drinking Water Act when formerly requested by a designated government officer):

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