RL34201 - Safe Drinking Water Act: Selected Regulatory and Legislative Issues
26-Nov-2008; Mary Tiemann ; 25 p.
Update: Previous updates:
October 2, 2007
Abstract: Much progress has been made in assuring the quality of public water supplies since the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was first enacted in 1974. Public water systems must meet extensive regulations, and public water system management has become a much more complex and professional endeavor. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulated some 91 drinking water contaminants, and more regulations are pending. In 2005, EPA reported that the number of systems reporting no violations of drinking water standards reached a new high of 94% in 2003. Despite such progress, however, an array of issues and challenges remain.
In the first session of the 110 Congress, key issues have involved water infrastructure funding needs and related compliance issues, and problems caused by specific drinking water contaminants, such as perchlorate and lead. Congress last reauthorized SDWA in 1996, and although funding authority for most SDWA programs expired in FY2003, broad reauthorization bills have not been proposed. Congress has continued to appropriate funds annually for SDWA programs, and EPA, states, and water systems have continued their efforts to implement and comply with the requirements of the 1996 law.
A long-standing and overarching SDWA issue concerns the cumulative cost and complexity of drinking water standards and the ability of water systems, especially small systems, to comply with standards. The issue of the affordability of drinking water standards, such as the arsenic and radium standards, has merged with the larger debate over what is the appropriate federal role in assisting communities with financing drinking water infrastructure.
To help communities finance projects needed to comply with federal drinking water standards, Congress authorized a drinking water state revolving fund (DWSRF) program in 1996. Under this program, EPA and the states, combined, have provided more than $11 billion to public water systems for infrastructure improvements and other projects needed to meet standards and maintain public health protection. Congress has appropriated roughly $840 million annually for this program in recent years. Nonetheless, studies show that a large funding gap has grown as SDWA requirements continue to increase, and as the nation’s infrastructure ages.
Water infrastructure financing legislation has been offered in recent congresses
to authorize increased funding for the DWSRF program and to provide grant
assistance for small communities. In the 109th Congress, additional bills were
introduced to establish a grant program to help small communities comply with
drinking water standards and to provide greater compliance flexibility for small water
systems. In the 110th Congress, bills again have been introduced to provide technical,
financial, and other compliance assistance to small communities. The debate over
the federal role in funding projects needed for SDWA compliance, and for water
infrastructure improvement in general, is likely to continue. [read report]