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U.S. Regulations on Drinking Water

You’ve heard over and over again just how important water is to our health. I’m going to repeat a fact we probably all know, but it’s a good reminder: 60 percent of the human body is composed of water. No wonder water is such a big deal! It’s an essential part of our survival and yet we sometimes take its presence for granted.

In case you’ve forgotten, here are some of the functions water plays in our bodies:

  • Regulates our internal body temperature by sweating and respiration.
  • Acts as a shock absorber for brain, spinal cord, and fetus.
  • Forms saliva.
  • Lubricates joints.
  • We need water to breathe as well. Our lungs must be moistened by water as we take in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide. We lose about 1 to 2 pints of water each day just exhaling. Craziness.

Now that I’ve managed to pique your interest (water + history=super interesting stuff), I’d like to tell you a little more about government regulations on drinking water. The best way to get this party started is by delving into some history. Oh, yeah.

Safe Drinking Water Act

Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) in 1974 “to protect public health by regulating the nation’s public drinking water supply.” Our society is constantly changing. Therefore it’s no surprise “the law was amended in 1986 and 1996.”

The main focus of this law is “on all waters actually or potentially designed for drinking use, whether from above ground or underground sources.” It also establishes “minimum standards to protect tap water and requires all owners or operators of public water to comply with these primary (health-related) standards.” States also fall under regulation from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Basic “standards for state programs to protect underground sources of drinking water from endangerment by underground injection of fluids” are established by the EPA.

Some of the main regulations include:

  • Lead Free” plumbing requirements.
  • When the EPA tested drinking water quality on commercial airlines in 2004 they found 15 percent of tested aircraft had positive results for coliform. Coliform by itself is not necessarily a health risk, but its presence “in drinking water indicates … other disease-causing organisms (pathogens) may be present in the water system.” Therefore, in 2009 the “EPA published the Aircraft Drinking Water Rule (ADWR) to ensure … safe and reliable drinking water is provided to airline passengers and crew.”
  • The EPA periodically publishes a list of unregulated contaminants that may require regulation. This list is known as the “Contaminant Candidate List.” Once the list has been assembled, the EPA must “decide whether to regulate at least five or more contaminants on the list.” The purpose of this list is to help the EPA “prioritize research and data collection efforts.”

What’s the point?

We’re about to delve into an awesome history lesson regarding the history of drinking water regulations. You may want to prepare yourself. I know, I know. Your high school days are over, but we’ve generously decided to transport you back to those gloriously awkward days. Enjoy.

Let’s begin. We’ll skip forward about fifty years from when the first formal drinking water standards were established in 1914. It’s the late 1960s and there’s a drastic need for more water as a result of economics, population and industrial growth. Communities were often forced to draw raw water from polluted sources as a consequence of this increase in water usage. Gross, right?

The U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) released results of its Community Water Supply Study (CWSS) in 1970. The purpose of the study was to see if the 969 public water systems surveyed in the study met water sanitation standards established in 1962. Surprisingly, 41 percent of the systems tests were not in compliance with the standards. As a result, it was “concluded eight million Americans were drinking substandard water.”

It wasn’t too long before Congress got involved. The release of the results from the CWSS report increased public and legislative interest. Everyone agreed something had to be done. Therefore, “Congress began to examine legislation that would allow the federal government to set maximum contaminant levels permissible in drinking water.” The EPA was required to “develop new national standards, oversee special studies and research, and guide implementation” as a result of the regulations passed by Congress.

Whew. We’re all done with the dreaded history portion. That wasn’t too bad was it? You’re now a certified U.S. drinking water regulation know-it-all. Congratulations.

Increasing Public Awareness

The creation of federal regulation to maintain safe drinking water was a necessary act considering the steady decline of water safety. The EPA has drastically increased public awareness about the importance of protecting drinking water since the establishment of SDWA.

What are some ways you can protect your drinking water?  It’s fairly simple, really.

  • Stay informed about your local water quality and relevant regulations.
  • Keep local officials accountable.
  • Properly maintain your septic system.

If you’re interested in learning more, check out our free downloadable guide.

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