Changes to Drinking Water Act Proposed
Kocheisen, Carol, Nation's Cities Weekly
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. …