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    Subject Term: "Safe drinking water"

    5 publications with a total of 15 open recommendations including 2 priority recommendations
    Director: Alfredo Gómez
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Assistant Administrator for Water of EPA's Office of Water should require states to report available information about lead pipes to EPA's Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS)/Fed (or a future redesign such as SDWIS Prime) database, in its upcoming revision of the LCR. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency: Office of Water
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Assistant Administrator for Water of EPA's Office of Water should require states to report all 90th percentile sample results for small water systems to EPA's SDWIS/Fed (or a future redesign such as SDWIS Prime) database, in its upcoming revision of the LCR. (Recommendation 2)

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency: Office of Water
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Assistant Administrator for Water of EPA's Office of Water and the Assistant Administrator of EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance should develop a statistical analysis that incorporates multiple factors--including those currently in SDWIS/Fed and others such as the presence of lead pipes and the use of corrosion control--to identify water systems that might pose a higher likelihood for violating the LCR once complete violations data are obtained, such as through SDWIS Prime. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency: Office of Water
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Recommendation: The Assistant Administrator for Water of EPA's Office of Water and the Assistant Administrator of EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance should develop a statistical analysis that incorporates multiple factors--including those currently in SDWIS/Fed and others such as the presence of lead pipes and the use of corrosion control--to identify water systems that might pose a higher likelihood for violating the LCR once complete violations data are obtained, such as through SDWIS Prime. (Recommendation 3)

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency: Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance
    Status: Open

    Comments: When we confirm what actions the agency has taken in response to this recommendation, we will provide updated information.
    Director: J. Alfredo Gómez
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    2 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve EPA's review and oversight of the SRF program, the Administrator of EPA should direct the Office of Water to update the financial indicators guidance to include one or more of EPA's financial measures for identifying the growth of states' SRF funds.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: As of April 2017, EPA is finalizing changes to its financial indicators to help identify the growth of states' SRF funds, according to EPA officials. EPA officials told us it had established a joint EPA/state workgroup that proposed draft financial indicators for the State Revolving Funds (SRF). These draft indicators are intended to address financial sustainability and the extent to which funds are being used efficiently. EPA plans to issue a memorandum to finalize these updated indicators in the summer of 2017. GAO will review EPA's memorandum when it is issued to determine if the recommendation can be closed.
    Recommendation: To improve EPA's review and oversight of the SRF program, the Administrator of EPA should direct the Office of Water to use information on SRF funds' past performance to develop projections of SRF programs by forecasting future lending capacity during regional office reviews of states' SRF programs using factors such as future interest earnings and inflation rates.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of April 2017, EPA is finalizing its tools and guidance to regional offices to forecast states' future lending capacity, according to EPA officials. EPA officials told us that it had enhanced its State Revolving Fund (SRF) Financial Planning Model to align future loan projections with target cash balances. EPA's Office of Water will work with EPA regional offices to use the updated SRF Financial Planning Model for SRF forecasts that will support annual regional reviews of state SRF programs. EPA will update its guidance to EPA regional offices to use these forecasts in their reviews of the state SRF programs beginning in 2017 or early 2018. GAO will review EPA's guidance when it is finalized to determine if this recommendation can be closed.
    Director: Gomez, Jose A
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    2 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To take advantage of opportunities to collect UCMR data on additional unregulated contaminants, Congress should consider amending SDWA to give EPA the flexibility to select more than 30 contaminants for monitoring under the UCMR program if high-priority contaminants, such as those on the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) or contaminants of emerging concern, can be included at minimal cost, with minimal additional burden on public water systems, and while using analytical methods that EPA is already employing.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, Congress has not taken action to address this matter; we will continue to monitor actions and provide updated information when it becomes available.
    Recommendation: To optimize the ability of the UCMR data to support regulatory determinations, Congress should consider adjusting the statutory time frames for the UCMR and regulatory determinations cycles so that EPA can use the UCMR data to support regulatory determinations in the same cycle.

    Agency: Congress
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of December 2016, Congress has not taken action to address this matter; we will continue to monitor actions and provide updated information when it becomes available.
    Director: Trimble, David C
    Phone: (202)512-9338

    3 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: To improve EPA's ability to oversee the states' implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and provide Congress and the public with more complete and accurate information on compliance, the Administrator of EPA should resume data verification audits to routinely evaluate the quality of selected drinking water data on health-based and monitoring violations that the states provide to EPA. These audits should also evaluate the quality of data on the enforcement actions that states and other primacy agencies have taken to correct violations.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In October 2016, EPA reported that it had not resumed its data verification audits, but is continuing on-site file reviews, completing 5 in 2015, and planning to complete 8 in 2016. Further, EPA continues to focus on developing its SDWIS Prime, which will support electronic verification of data. It plans to have the system operational in March 2018. In the last year, EPA conducted two training events with the regional file review teams which the agency indicated helped (1) identify challenges in completing file reviews and potential solutions, and (2) share best practices to enhance the implementation of the protocol. EPA told us that as the regions build more capacity and experience in conducting these file reviews, EPA expects to gradually increase the number of file reviews completed in a year. According to OECA, who collaborates with the water office for file reviews in some regions, there were no systemic discrepancies between enforcement file contents and data reported to EPA in its test of the protocol for evaluating the quality of enforcement data in 3 states.
    Recommendation: To improve EPA's ability to oversee the states' implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and provide Congress and the public with more complete and accurate information on compliance, the Administrator of EPA should work with the states to establish a goal, or goals, for the completeness and accuracy of data on monitoring violations. In setting these goals, EPA may want to consider whether certain types of monitoring violations merit specific targets. For example, the agency may decide that a goal for the states to completely and accurately report when required monitoring was not done should differ from a goal for reporting when monitoring was done but not reported on time.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to EPA, it has not worked with states to establish a national goal for the quality of monitoring violations. EPA stated that without the ability to conduct on-site data verifications using a statistically-based sample size, it is unable to derive a goal that would capture both completeness of state reporting to EPA and whether the states correctly assigned a violation for missed monitoring. EPA said that it intends to work with states to evaluate the establishment of a monitoring data quality goal once the new SDWIS NextGen data system has been developed and electronic data verification functions are incorporated into the system. In April 2015, EPA indicated that the agency intends to separate monitoring violations from reporting violations in the new SDWIS Primacy Agency data system. According to EPA, this will enable the primacy agencies and EPA to better understand the nature of system violations and with the violations delineated in this manner, will allow EPA to consider developing goals for monitoring and reporting violations. In September 2015, EPA reported to GAO that it anticipated that states will begin using SDWIS Prime in September 2017 and that it will consider GAO's recommendation once SDWIS Prime is fully operational and it is able to better establish such a goal.
    Recommendation: To improve EPA's ability to oversee the states' implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and provide Congress and the public with more complete and accurate information on compliance, the Administrator of EPA should consider whether EPA's performance measures for community water systems could be constructed to more clearly communicate the aggregate public health risk posed by these systems' noncompliance with SDWA and progress in having those systems return to compliance in a timely manner.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: According to EPA, the agency has not made any adjustments to the performance measures for community water systems. EPA told us that, as part of its periodic review of the 5-year Strategic Plan, it will consult with the states, the Office of Management and Budget, GAO and the National Drinking Water Advisory Committee (NDWAC) on how it could construct a new measure to communicate better the aggregate public health risk posed by noncompliance as GAO suggests. EPA also said that it will continue to use a variety of tools and resources to convey to the public information on drinking water quality and potential health risks associated with exposure to contaminants. In April 2015, EPA wrote: OGWDW did not make any changes in Fiscal Year 2014 to the program's current community water system-based measure which communicates the results of efforts to return systems to compliance and maintain compliance. The "person month" measure provides insight into the duration of health based violations. For FY 15, we have developed a "person month" measure for tribal community water systems. Further efforts to evaluate the current measures and consideration of GAO suggestions will continue to be part of the Agency's periodic review of the five-year strategic plan. In September 2015, EPA told GAO that it was evaluating the effectiveness of the "person month" measure and is continuing to enhance and revise the measures taking GAO suggestions into consideration.
    Director: Trimble, David C
    Phone: (202)512-9338

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To increase EPA's consistency, transparency, and clarity in implementing the Safe Drinking Water Act in a way that better assures the public of safe drinking water, and to systematically implement the statutory requirement to consider for regulation the contaminants that present the greatest public health concern, the EPA Administrator should require that the Office of Water to develop a coordinated process for obtaining both the occurrence and health effects data that may be needed for the agency to make informed regulatory determinations on these priority contaminants.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: EPA has not demonstrated that it has developed a coordinated process for obtaining both occurrence and health effects data to make informed determinations on priority contaminants. EPA's response to this recommendation is that it will continue the status quo of obtaining occurrence data through UCMRs and work with the Office of Research and Development. As we reported, the approach EPA currently uses does not provide the agency with all of the data it needs in a timely manner to support determinations for some priority contaminants.
    Recommendation: To increase EPA's consistency, transparency, and clarity in implementing the Safe Drinking Water Act in a way that better assures the public of safe drinking water, and to support the development of regulatory determinations that are transparent, clear, and consistent and that follow applicable agency policy, the EPA Administrator should require the Office of Water to expeditiously develop, and make available to the public, policies or guidance that clearly articulates the agency's interpretation of the act's broad statutory criteria for making regulatory determinations and provides a protocol for making such determinations. In particular, the guidance should establish a process to ensure that the presentation of health effects and occurrence information in regulatory determination notices and support documents is comprehensive, consistent, informative, and understandable and that it includes clear explanations of key information, such as any exceptions to existing guidance reflected in the agency's support for its regulatory determinations.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: EPA's Preliminary Regulatory Determinations for Contaminants on the Third Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List (Reg Det 3) did not appear to include any cases in which EPA made an exception to existing guidance, negating the need for an explanation. EPA has not developed policies or guidance that establishes a process to ensure that the presentation of health effects and occurrence information in regulatory determination notices and support documents is comprehensive, consistent, informative, and understandable, and that it includes clear explanations of key information and the Protocol for Regulatory Determinations 3 does not appear to address this circumstance. Without policies or guidance establishing a process to ensure the comprehensive, consistent, informative, and understandable presentation of its regulatory determinations, there is no guarantee at this time that EPA would include this information in future regulatory determinations.
    Recommendation: To increase EPA's consistency, transparency, and clarity in implementing the Safe Drinking Water Act in a way that better assures the public of safe drinking water, and to support the development of regulatory determinations that are transparent, clear, and consistent and that follow applicable agency policy, the EPA Administrator should require the Office of Water to expeditiously develop, and make available to the public, policies or guidance that clearly articulates the agency's interpretation of the act's broad statutory criteria for making regulatory determinations and provides a protocol for making such determinations. In particular, the guidance should specify that appropriate stakeholders--that is, EPA offices with relevant expertise such as the Office of Children's Health Protection and regional offices that have known or likely occurrence of the contaminants being evaluated in public water systems within their areas of jurisdiction--be encouraged and have the opportunity to participate in the regulatory determination work groups.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: EPA's response to this recommendation reflects the practice that was in place at the time we issued our report including this recommendation. As a result, it does not appear that EPA has taken any additional action to satisfy this recommendation at this time.
    Recommendation: In light of EPA's decisions to issue health advisories in conjunction with determinations to not regulate certain contaminants that have been detected in some public water systems at levels of public health concern, the EPA Administrator should (1) determine whether the Office of Water's use of health advisories provides sufficient information on these unregulated contaminants to support timely and effective actions by states, localities, public water systems, and the public to ensure the safety of public drinking water, and (2) if not, direct the Office of Water to develop a plan to more effectively communicate such information to these entities.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: EPA indicated that it has begun a process of developing concise updates to carry forward into its health advisory table and that the process will be completed gradually over the next year, with updates continuing in the future, but has not yet published any updates for non-microbial contaminants. In addition, EPA has not addressed the call in the recommendation for the documentation of the process to update the advisories. The agency did indicate its plan to update the Drinking Water Standards and Health Advisory table in the fall of 2016, so we will leave this recommendation open and continue to monitor for future actions.