US Drinking Water

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US Drinking Water Safety Regulations: Federal

The federal regulations regarding drinking water quality in the US include the Safe Water Drinking Act, the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations, the National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations, and the Clean Water Act, the last of which relates mostly to ground water safety/contamination. Each of these is under the authority of the EPA, with help from states, tribes, and other groups, like the CDC. Bottled water is held to a different standard the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and is under the purview of the FDA.

Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA)

  • The Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA), which was passed by Congress in 1974, is the primary set of standards regulating drinking water quality in the United States. It was amended in both 1986 and 1996, and outlines the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) “authority to set the standards for drinking water quality,” and oversight for the implementation and maintenance of those standards for “states, localities, and water suppliers” in the US.
  • Within the EPA, the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (OGWDW) works in conjunction with “states, tribes, and many partners” to protect drinking water and ground water, and therefore protect public health. This office is in charge of overseeing implementations of the SWDA. They help develop / implement federal drinking water standards, oversee and fund state-level drinking water programs and protection programs, help “small drinking water systems,” protect underground drinking water sources, and educate the public about drinking water quality and issues. The federal Office of Water (OW) is the overarching body under which the OGWDW falls. The OW is responsible for overseeing implementation of all legislation relating to water, including drinking and ground waters, as well as aquatic ecosystems like lakes, marshes, wetlands, and oceans.
  • The EPA has set “maximum contaminant levels and/or treatment technique requirements for over 90 different contaminants,” which include “microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfections-by-products, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals, and radionuclides.” Of note, there are lists of “unregulated contaminants” that the EPA and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) monitor and make determinations periodically. These are called “regulatory determinations and this information is used to “prioritize research and data collection efforts” to inform the regulatory bodies of possible contaminants to monitor and or on which to set standards.

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR)

  • Some of the regulations outlined in the SWDA include the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR).
  • These are the “legally enforceable primary standards and treatment techniques that apply to public water systems,” and are in place to protect public health by limiting contaminant levels in public water systems. A complete list of the allowable limits for each contaminant can be found here. Compliance with these standards is under the authority of the EPA, which works with other organizations, like the CDC, tribal organizations, and states, to enforce the laws.

National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (NSDWR)

  • Some of the regulations in the SWDA also include National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (NSDWR).
  • These are “non-mandatory water quality standards for 15 contaminants,” that help keep drinking water aesthetically pleasing by maintaining high quality levels of “taste, color, and odor.” The contaminants monitored by these regulations “are not considered to present a risk to human health.” While these regulations are not enforceable at the federal level, the EPA requires notice for exceedance of the levels, especially on contaminants like fluoride.

Bottled Drinking Water

  • Notably, bottled water is not under the authority of the EPA; this is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • The FDA has regulations for commercially bottled water under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act which “sets standards for bottled water that are based on ones developed by the EPA.” Additionally, companies in the bottled water industry must follow all FDA guidelines laid out in the Current Good Manufacturing Practices (CGMPs) manuals for both the processing and bottling of the drinking water.

Clean Water Act

  • The Clean Water Act (CWA), as it’s commonly known, began as the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948, and “was the first major US law to address water pollution.” It was amended in 1972, and has seen multiple additions and revisions over the years, including 1978, 1981, 1987, and 1990, during each of which needs standards were set in place or programs were replaced with those that served current needs. All of these standards help keep lakes, rivers, streams, marshlands and wetlands, oceans, and all waterways in the US as pollution-free as possible. The EPA is the overseeing authority for these regulations.

Research Strategy

This information was synthesized from various governmental websites related to water quality laws in the United States, including the EPA and CDC websites.

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US Drinking Water Safety Regulations: State and Local

State and local agencies work with federal agencies to ensure safe drinking water for US citizens by following and enforcing federal and state regulations for safe drinking water standards, maintaining public water systems, testing water quality and filing annual reports on water quality and standards compliance, publishing annual reports of water quality violations, and notifying/guiding the public in cases of water quality issues. Individual states may also create and enforce their own standards, as long as federal standards are met.

State-Level Agencies Responsible for Ensuring Safe Water Regulations

  • Each state has its own set of water quality departments responsible for ensuring federal, state, and local water quality regulations are met, and for enforcing penalties and clean-up as necessary. The departments are different for each state. For example, Alabama’s water is under the authority of the Department of Environmental Management Drinking Water and the Geological Survey of Alabama Department. In Florida, four departments are responsible, including the Department of Environmental Protection Source & Drinking Water Program, the Public Services Commission Water & Wastewater, the Department of Water Resource Management, and the South Florida Water Management District.
  • A complete list of the state-level agencies in charge of water safety can be found here.

Follow & Enforce Federal Regulations for Safe Drinking Water Standards

  • According to the laws, regulations, and guidance outlined in the Safe Drinking Water Act and related primacy regulations, US states must adhere to the following requirements: [1] Have contaminant regulations that are at least as stringent as the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs); [2] Have adoption and enforcement regulations in place; [3] Maintain a public water systems inventory; [4] Conduct sanitary water systems surveys; [5] Have certified labs available for water testing and a program to certify them; [6] Have a designated principal water-quality testing lab that’s EPA-certified; [7] Have programs for new/modified systems to ensure they comply with regulations; [8] Maintain adequate regulation-enforcement authority; [9] Have standardized recordkeeping and reporting requirements in place; [10] Have variance and exemption standards at least as stringent as those set by the FDA (though the state may opt to not allow variances or exemptions); [11] Have a safe-drinking-water plan in place for natural disasters or other emergencies; [12] Have adequate authority to assess administrative penalties for violations of primacy requirements.
  • Other guidance for states can be found in the Water Supply Guidance (WSG) manuals, [s3] which is a “compilation of policy decisions pertaining to implementation issues under the Safe Drinking Water Act.”
  • Additionally, specific guidance for chemical contaminants, microbial contaminants, and public right-to-know rules are outlined in various documents provided by the EPA. These help state administrators ensure they are meeting federal requirements.
  • Drinking Water Quick Reference Guides (a whole slew of them) can be found here. These help guide state administrators with meeting drinking water standards.
  • Lastly, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) “is a federal-state partnership to help ensure safe drinking water;” guidance for and funding through this program are also available to state administrators through the EPA.

Maintain State-Level Public Water Systems

  • Each state is responsible for maintaining their public water systems, which provide “water for human consumption … to at least 15 services connections or serves an average of at least 25 people for at least 60 days a year.” There are more than 151,000 of these public water systems within the US, and they serve about 90% of the population. There are three types of established public water systems: Community Water Systems (CWS), Non-Transient Non-Community Water Systems (NTNCWS), and Transient Non-Community Water Systems (TNCWS). State administrators are responsible for ensuring these are safe, maintained, and follow all applicable laws and regulations.
  • The EPA delegates authority of the enforcement responsibility (primacy) “for public water systems to states and Indian Tribes, if they meet certain requirements,” as outlined above in the first bullet of the second section.

Collect, Report, & Address Water Supply Violations

  • The EPA requires each state to collect, report, and address violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act or other issues related to poor quality drinking water in public water systems. These violations are counted across four categories, including contaminant levels, treatment techniques, variances and exemptions, and major violations.
  • In the event of a major issue with a public drinking water system, the EPA also requires immediate public notification of the issue, along with guidance for maintaining public safety. This is often done in conjunction with the CDC and other departments (both federal and state).

Test Water Quality & Publish Annual Water Quality Reports

  • The EPA requires states to publish Annual Water Quality Reports that detail the water quality for each area within each the state. These are typically published along with the water supply violations lists. Along with this comes the responsibility of testing the water on a frequent basis to ensure compliance with quality standards.

State-Specific Functions & Variances

  • Each state’s water situation is different, and therefore, each state’s water control and management is also different. In Illinois, for example, the Bureau of Water also conducts surface water assessments, offers grants related to water quality, and issues storm water permits. In Tennessee, the Division of Water Resources manages similar items like Illinois, but also oversees installation of septic systems and wells, provides drought updates, and offers a training center and water plant optimization programs.
  • Additionally, some states create their own water quality standards, like adding fluoride to public drinking water systems, which began as a public health intervention in 1945. The CDC monitors this, along with state-level administrators in the states in which this is done. Thirteen states have specific “statutes or regulations requiring community water systems to fluoridate drinking water to a specific concentration or range,” including Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, and South Dakota.

Research Strategy

These findings are the result of a synthesis of information found on the EPA and CDC websites, as well as state databases, and state-level water quality departmental websites.

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Salesforce Blackwater System

Salesforce created the blackwater recycling system in their San Francisco office building as a response to the lengthy drought that struck California from 2012-2016. The sustainable initiative was implemented to assist Salesforce in combating climate change.

Overview of the Blackwater System

What It Is

  • The Salesforce blackwater system is an innovative on-site water recycling system that the company installed in the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco.
  • The system involves a collaboration between the building's owner, the San Francisco city government, and Salesforce to "support blackwater reuse in a commercial high-rise building."
  • In the United States, it is the first system of its kind to be installed in a commercial high-rise structure and will reduce the building's consumption of drinkable water.
  • The blackwater system filters water that has been used and then re-purposes "it for non-drinkable water uses around and in" the Salesforce Tower.
  • The recycled water is distributed throughout the entire building as opposed to Salesforce solely.

What It Does

  • The Salesforce's blackwater recycling system is expected to decrease the Salesforce Tower's drinkable water consumption by preserving fresh water every day.
  • It collects waste water from sinks, urinals, toilets, showers, cooling showers, and rainwater gathered at the rooftop and treats the water "in a centralized water treatment center."
  • The recycled water is then used to for certain non-drinkable purposes in the building, such as toilet flushing and drip irrigation.
  • This recycled water from the centralized water treatment gets recirculated within the Saleforce Tower through a different pipe system.

Why Salesforce Installed The Recycling System

  • The Salesforce blackwater system is one of the sustainability programs the firm initiated by taking advantage of its culture of innovation to address the issue of climate change.
  • Salesforce decided to install the system after extensively monitoring the impact of a five-year drought (2012-2016) in California.
  • This drought broke records for the heat and dryness it brought, and it greatly affected water as a resource, which harmed both cities and residents.
  • Salesforce anticipates droughts in the future and says this project is motivated by sustainability since it diminishes the demand for fresh water by about 7.8 million gallons per year.
  • The firm's core value is equality and this initiative will help it to reach this goal by assisting the organization in fighting for equality for all.
  • The organization also wants to provide water leadership as it is devoted to the 'We Mean Business' Improve Water Security Initiative.'

Metrics of Success to date

  • In its 2019 Stakeholder Impact report, the firm claimed that its blackwater system beat San Francisco's green building code energy performance guidelines by over 20% and that the system is now enrolled in the city's 100% renewable energy program, SuperGreen.
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Intel Water Treatment Plant

Intel built a water treatment facility to address its long terms environmental sustainability goal, that is, to restore its 100% of the water it uses back to the local communities and watersheds. The plant also provides support for its local manufacturing operations in the area.

The Intel Water Treatment Plant

What it does

  • The water treatment plant treats and restores between 75% and 85% of the water used in their facilities back to the municipal "water treatment operations."
  • The remaining 15-25% is used in the company's daily operations. However, to make up for that amount, the plan is to fund community-based initiatives geared at restoring water that is equal to the amounts used in Intel's operations.

Its Purpose