DESPITE THE United States' claim to the world's safest drinking water supplies, one in five local water systems violates at least one health standard each year. Some are short-lived episodes that are quickly remedied without harm. Yet these problems underline the need for basic improvements in treatment and detection systems.
Bipartisan action by Congress last week, signed into law by President Clinton this week, will tighten federal drinking water standards, while helping states pay for needed improvements and streamline health regulations.
Reauthorization of the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act also includes important "right to know" provisions requiring water systems to better disclose contaminants in their drinking water, within 24 hours in some cases.
State revolving funds will get more than $1 billion a year over the next seven years to finance local system projects. The loss of $725 million in previously approved funds for local water projects due to congressional delay, a target of partisan snipers, will be restored later.
This dramatic increase in federal spending on clean water, even with some pork larding, brought together divided Republicans and Democrats on a fundamental environmental measure. Americans want safe, assured drinking water, regardless of political ideologies.
Controlling known dangerous contaminants, rather than listing new ones, will be the changed focus of federal activity. Regulations on chlorine, the most common disinfectant, will be upheld and tougher standards developed for the common parasite cryptosporidium.
Because drinking water standards are a stiff unfunded federal mandate for localities, the bill allows waivers for smaller water systems in treating less-serious health hazards and in notifying the public. But it requires certified operators for all systems, JTC regardless of size.
States will be required to identify watersheds of drinking water supplies, and to monitor the origins of pollutants into those common sources, rather than dealing with contaminants only in individual systems. That approach, as much as anything in the bill, promises greater effectiveness in protecting this nation's most valuable liquid assets.
Pub Date: 8/08/96