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Changes to drinking water act proposed.

Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, proposed amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act last week which would authorize the administration's proposed revolving loan fund (SRF) and modify some of the provisions in the current law regulating public drinking water supplies.


of Contaminants

Except for specific provisions on radon, the Baucus proposal does little to change the current standard setting process. The measure would, however, replace the current law provision that requires EPA to promulgate regulations for 25 new contaminants every three years. Instead, the Baucus measure proposes that EPA identify 15 new contaminants three years after enactment for which standards may - or may not - subsequently be developed. EPA would, in effect, have discretionary authority to propose new drinking water standards.

Thereafter, EPA would have to identify seven contaminants every three years, develop their list in consultation with the National Drinking Water Advisory Council, and submit the proposed list to a public hearing process. Contaminants for which no standards are developed would be subject of a non-enforceable health advisory.

Monitoring Requirements

EPA would be given authority to cancel monitoring requirements for water systems that do not detect a specific contaminant "if the contaminant is detected in less than 5 percent of the systems and exceeds the standard in less than 0.5% of systems or if the contaminant has not been found at a level exceeding 75% of the standard." In other words, if a specific contaminant appears rarely (e.g. pesticides used on pineapples), a system in which it never appears would no longer be required to monitor for the contaminant. For systems serving less than 10,000 people, monitoring may be waived if the contaminant is not detected in an initial test.

Compliance Deadlines

Baucus also proposes to extend the deadline for compliance with new drinking water standards from the current 18 months to up to 36 months. Exemptions from compliance, however, would be limited to two years, down from the current three.

Small Systems

The Baucus proposal also sets up a special program for small water supply systems, those serving 3,300 or fewer people by establishing a state management plan and a small system compliance program.

States may use up to $500,000 or 10 percent of revenues in their share of the drinking water SRF to develop plans and compliance programs for small water systems. Major objectives of the plan include consolidation of non-viable systems and the development of individualized compliance plans for systems unable to comply with federal standards.


While the proposal mandates EPA to issue maximum contaminant levels for radon within one year of enactment, it also authorizes an alternative contaminant level at which the risks of radon in drinking water equal risks associated with radon in outdoor air. The alternative contaminant level may only be used, however, by a water system implementing a program to reduce radon in indoor air or by a system in a state implementing such an indoor air program.

Source Water

Protection Program

The measure offers two $20 million "incentives" for states and/or public water supply systems to develop source water protection programs. Both water systems and states would each be eligible for grants from the $40 million with water suppliers required to provide a 20 percent match and states required to provide a 50 percent match. Modifications in monitoring requirements would be allowable based on pollution prevention occurring from the source water protection program.


While the bill specifically assumes states will "ensure sufficient funding for the effective administration of the program," it authorizes EPA "to assume implementation ... in any state where the program is not effectively implemented or adequately funded." To finance federal administration of the drinking water program, the measure authorizes the imposition of a fee of one-half cent per hundred gallons provided on water systems serving over 3,300 persons. If such fees do not generate sufficient resources for federal implementation of the program, additional resources would be made available from the SRF.

Revolving Funds

Sen. Baucus authorizes $5.6 billion, an increase over the administration's proposed $4.6 billion drinking water SRF ($599 million of which is included in the FY 1994 HUD, VA, Independent Agencies Appropriations bill, pending an authorization). Projects eligible to obtain loans include capital expenditures for: compliance with drinking water standards; system consolidation; water conservation; construction and restoration of drinking water supply, treatment, and distribution systems; source water protection programs; mitigation of radon in indoor air for low income customers of drinking water systems; land purchases for facility construction; and replacement of private wells where they present a health threat.

All community drinking water systems, both public and private, are eligible for SRF loans including for refinancing obligations incurred prior to enactment of this legislation. States will be required to provide a 20 percent match for federal SRF contributions. The state share may be used for loan forgiveness (grants) in disadvantaged communities (where the average residential user is paying rates greater than 1.5 percent of the median household income.


The measure "streamlines and consolidates" enforcement functions, authorizes the imposition of civil and/or criminal penalties (fines and/or jail respectively). Civil actions brought by citizens are also enhanced. Current law prohibitions on suits for past violations are deleted.

Senator Baucus has indicated he plans to move amendments to the Drinking Water Act through committee before the end of the year. He also said he is open to suggestions on how to improve or further amend his proposal.
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Title Annotation:Safe Drinking Water Act
Author:Kocheisen, Carol
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:Oct 18, 1993
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