Drinking Water:

Stronger Efforts Essential for Small Communities to Comply with Standards

RCED-94-40: Published: Mar 9, 1994. Publicly Released: Mar 14, 1994.

Additional Materials:

Contact:

Peter F. Guerrero
(202) 512-4907
contact@gao.gov

 

Office of Public Affairs
(202) 512-4800
youngc1@gao.gov

Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed small community water systems' compliance with drinking water regulations, focusing on: (1) cost-effective and alternative management approaches for improving small water systems' regulation compliance; (2) the barriers that prevent the effective use of these alternative approaches; and (3) the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to remove any barriers and promote alternative approaches at the national level.

GAO found that: (1) state efforts to improve small community water systems' compliance with safe drinking water standards include developing technology- and management-based alternative strategies, determining whether alternatives are cost-effective, testing ways to provide technical and financial assistance to small systems, and exploring small system restructuring options; (2) barriers that prevent states from using alternative strategies include the high cost and complexity of some treatment technologies and the lack of cost and performance data necessary to assess alternative technologies and identify nonviable water systems to ensure they comply with drinking water standards; (3) although EPA supports states' consolidation of nonviable water systems, its drinking water grant formula provides a disincentive for consolidating water systems; (4) EPA efforts to address the barriers include field testing alternative treatment technologies, improving state technical and managerial capabilities, revising state grant allocation methods, and recommending that states develop viability programs; and (5) EPA needs to revise its drinking water program priorities to emphasize the development and implementation of viability programs, work with Congress to ensure that its proposed requirement is accompanied by a realistic funding strategy, and eliminate disincentives for consolidating water systems.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The newly reauthorized Safe Drinking Water Act requires states to develop viability programs for both new and existing systems. Specifically, states must obtain the legal authority or other means to ensure that all new systems demonstrate the technical, managerial, and financial capacity to comply with the regulations. States must also develop and implement a strategy to assist existing systems in acquiring and maintaining the technical, managerial, and financial capacity necessary for compliance. EPA is planning to develop information, in consultation with the states, to assist them in meeting these requirements.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should revise EPA drinking water program priorities to place greater emphasis on developing and implementing viability programs.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The newly reauthorized Safe Drinking Water Act requires states to develop viability programs and allows states to use a portion of their state revolving funds for this purpose. The act also limits the amount of funding that states will receive in future years if they do not meet requirements for viability programs.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should work with the cognizant committees of Congress to develop a detailed funding strategy to accompany the EPA proposed requirement that states develop viability programs for small systems.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In 1994, EPA permanently revised the grant formula to stabilize funding levels at 95 percent of each state's prior-year allotment to mitigate any penalty that existed for states that consolidated their systems. EPA officials noted that this change applies to all future years if no major reduction in total appropriations of grant funds occurs.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should revise its public water supply supervision grant formula to remove any disincentives for states to reduce the number of water systems in the long term.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency

 

Explore the full database of GAO's Open Recommendations »

Aug 15, 2016

Jul 26, 2016

Jul 21, 2016

Jul 14, 2016

Jul 7, 2016

Jun 14, 2016

Jun 13, 2016

Looking for more? Browse all our products here