12/16/19 – 45th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

Today (12/16) marks the 45th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) and it makes sense to stop and reflect on how far the water sector has come since 1974 and how much work is still let to be done. Since 1974, EPA has finalized 19 major drinking water regulations for 91 contaminants and 49 states have adopted their own comparable regulations to maintain primary enforcement duties (primacy). The SDWA has seen two sets of significant amendments (1986 and 1996 [text of 1996 SDWA Amendments shown here]) and eight other sets of amendments.

Several significant new programs resulted from the 1996 SDWA Amendments:

  • A revamped regulatory development process, starting with the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL), followed by Regulatory Determinations, and then if a regulation was needed, a proposed regulation, followed by a final regulation;
  • Six-Year Review of Existing Regulations;
  • Drinking Water State Revolving Loan Fund (DWSRF);
  • Capacity Development;
  • Source Water Protection;
  • Operator Certification; etc.

However, more work is left to do. States are struggling with contaminants of emerging concern such as PFAS (and others). as well as increased concerns with other contaminants such as lead and Legionella. Violations with existing regulations are problematic, with violations of health-based standards at 7% of community water systems (consistent across all system sizes). Flat funding for states is exacerbating these issues and funding issues are challenging on all levels – federal, state and local. Water and wastewater infrastructure needs are significant, and while some systems are in good shape financially, others struggle and others have affordability issues for some (or all) of their customers.