Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA; US)


By Michael J. Lynch, University of South Florida, FL


The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA; 42 U.S.C., Sections 300f-300j; Public Law 107-377; SDWA Online) is a supplemental act designed to enhance the provisions of the Clean Water Act (see this dictionary) to address issues related to the pollution and safety of the groundwater drinking supply omitted from the purview of the CWA. The SDWA was originally passed in 1974, and amended in 1986 and 1996. The entire test of the SDWA covers 124 pages, and this entry addresses the main component of that regulation.

The SDWA requires the EPA to promulgate National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR) to protect public health. The NPDWS is made up of two sets of regulations: those related to primary and secondary drinking water regulations. The primary drinking water standards are uniform and enforceable across states; the secondary states can vary geographically and are recommendations for water safety standards.

The SDWA applies to public water systems. A public water system is a water supply network that supplies water to either 25 or more people or has 15 connections that operate on a regular basis.

Under the provisions of the SDWA, he EPA Administrator is directed to produce Maximum Contamination Level (MCL) goals for public drinking water supplies, and to evaluate and revise this criterion every 5 years. AN MCL is a scientifically established criterion for drinking water safety. Peer review assessment is to be used in setting the MCL. In setting such standards, and cost-benefit analysis and risk assessments must also be employed. The MCL criteria established must be feasible. Feasible is defined with respect to Best Available Technology (BAT). The feasibility of an MCL criterion may also be dependent on issues that impact feasibility of instituting BAT relative to smaller water supply systems such as those serving 3,300 to 10,000 people, those serving 500 to 3,300 people, and those serving fewer than 500 people.

The National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR; see, NPDWR Link) are designed to specify appropriate technologies to be used in different cases. The EPA Administrator’s judge (ie., the NPDWR) are subject to judicial review. The responsibility for establishing water monitoring system and an enforcement system consistent with NPDWR falls on each state, and each state has primary monitoring and enforcement responsibilities. Any state that fails to establish an enforcement mechanism is subject to EPA regulation.

The provisions of the Act require states to establish public water disinfection systems consistent with the guidelines established by EPA under this Act.
The NPDWR cannot be used to require that any additive to public drinking water be required for the purpose of preventative health care.

States may be penalized for failure to comply with the requirements of the SDWA. For a water system serving more than 10,000 people, the minimum fine is $1,000 per day per violation. For smaller public water systems (less than 10,000 people), the fine must be adequate to ensure compliance. Corporations operating public water systems may be civilly liable for fines of $ 25,000 per day per violation.

States are required to serve notification of violations within 24 hours of an adverse monitoring outcome. Each state shall also produce an annual report on its monitoring and enforcement activities and publish public notification summaries of data for water system users. These reports are to be received by water system users by mail for systems with 10,000 or more users.
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