Drinking Water in Area Clean, Officials Say but Watchdog Group Report Says EPA Lax in Enforcing Federal Clean Water Laws
Virginia Young Post-Dispatch Jefferson City Bureau The and Roger Signor and Robert Kelly of the Post-Dispatch contributed information ., St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Most of Missouri's drinking water systems are clean, the state's director of public drinking water said Monday.
"Overall, we've got good water quality in the state," said Jerry Lane, the director. "There are 13 water systems that are considered significant noncompliers. They're mostly small systems, subdivisions and mobile home courts."
Lane's comments followed a report by a watchdog group in Washington that millions of Americans risk contracting disease with every drink of tap water because water treatment systems nationwide routinely violate safety regulations.
The report, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the federal Environmental Protection Agency had logged 300,000 state and federal violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1991 and last year, but only about 1 percent resulted in penalties.
Most of the violations involved failures to regularly test water quality, report contamination, follow proper water treatment methods or notify the public of violations, said the council's senior attorney, Erik Olson, who wrote the report, "Think Before You Drink."
On Monday, the EPA promised to toughen enforcement. EPA Administrator Carol Browner issued a statement: "Americans can rest assured that their water is among the safest in the world." But she said the administration, which has proposed an overhaul of the nation's Safe Drinking Water Act, agrees with most of the council's recommendations.
"We are proposing a package of reforms that will toughen enforcement, provide new funds to communities and maintain the highest standards nationwide to protect the public's health," she said.
In Missouri, David Shorr, director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, said: "The biggest issue with the Safe Drinking Water Act is, they passed a humongous federal law and they didn't give us any money. It's a classic case of federal dumping. That's the big beef from the states."
The biggest need, Shorr said, is in cash-poor rural areas with outdated plants. Missouri wants to set up a revolving loan fund to help upgrade such systems, but first the federal government must pass legislation, he said.
This summer's flood caused problems for 75 water systems in Missouri, but most are back to normal, Shorr said. "Last week only two systems were still on boil orders," he said.
Earlier this year, the Missouri Legislature authorized a fee on water bills to improve the state's drinking water program. The fees range from 66 cents to $2 a year, depending on the system's size. …