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    Subject Term: "Water pollution control"

    8 publications with a total of 21 open recommendations including 5 priority recommendations
    Director: J. Alfredo Gómez
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Director of EPA's Office of Wastewater Management should, when working with municipalities and other stakeholders to develop long-term stormwater plans, document agreements on how they will collaborate, such as in a memorandum of understanding, aligned with our key considerations for implementing interagency collaborative mechanisms. (Recommendation 1)

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency: Office of Wastewater Management
    Status: Open

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

    4 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To help ensure protection of underground drinking water from the injection of wastewater associated with domestic oil and gas production, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should require and collect well-specific data on inspections from state and EPA-managed programs, including when the wells were inspected, the types of inspections conducted, and the results of the inspections in order to track progress toward state and EPA-managed annual inspection goals.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA said that it is working toward establishing a complete, regularly updated data set. It will work toward expanding the agency's access to well-specific data and will expand the data it has in its national UIC database. And, the agency said that it will continue to work with DOE and the Groundwater Protection Council to develop a national oil and gas gateway for well-specific data. Until such data are made available, we will leave this recommendation as open.
    Recommendation: To help ensure protection of underground drinking water from the injection of wastewater associated with domestic oil and gas production, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should complete the aquifer exemption database and establish a way to update it to provide EPA headquarters and regions with sufficient information on aquifer exemptions to oversee state and EPA-managed programs.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In December 2016, EPA published a map of aquifer exemptions online, with the exception of region 9 data. The public dataset shows the data in two dimensions and includes information such as depth of injection, surrounding geology and injectate characteristics. EPA plans to update the database annually. We will keep this recommendation open until EPA completes work on region 9.
    Recommendation: To help ensure protection of underground drinking water from the injection of wastewater associated with domestic oil and gas production, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should clarify guidance on what data should be reported on the 7520-4 form to help ensure that the data collected are complete and consistent across state and EPA-managed programs and to provide the information EPA needs to assess whether it must take enforcement actions.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA said that it is working toward establishing a complete, regularly updated data set. It will work toward expanding the agency's access to well-specific data and will expand the data it has in its national UIC database. And, the agency said that it will continue to work with DOE and the Groundwater Protection Council to develop a national oil and gas gateway for well-specific data. Until such data are made available, we will leave this recommendation open.
    Recommendation: To help ensure protection of underground drinking water from the injection of wastewater associated with domestic oil and gas production, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should conduct a workforce analysis to identify the human capital and other resources EPA needs to carry out its oversight of state and EPA-managed programs.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA disagreed and said that the best approach is to expand its evaluation of agency oversight to include elements of inspection and enforcement. Once the evaluation is complete, EPA will consider its oversight of state programs. We will keep this recommendation open until EPA completes its review and determines what it will do with its oversight.
    Director: J. Alfredo Gómez
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    3 open recommendations
    including 1 priority recommendation
    Recommendation: As EPA and USDA continue to consider ways to track and promote water utilities' implementation of asset management, the Administrator of EPA should direct the Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water and Office of Wastewater Management to continue to include questions on water utilities' use of asset management in the clean water needs assessment and consider including questions about water utilities' use of asset management in future drinking water infrastructure needs assessment surveys.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: As of March 2017, EPA has convened a workgroup of 40 people representing states, technical advisers, EPA, and USDA. It will develop new asset management outreach tools directed towards local decision makers. The group will meet quarterly and plans to issue tools and resources by fall 2017.
    Recommendation: As EPA and USDA continue to consider ways to track and promote water utilities' implementation of asset management, the Administrator of EPA, and the Secretary of USDA, through the Rural Development Agency, should consider compiling into one document the existing cases and examples of the benefits and costs of asset management and widely share this information with water utilities.

    Agency: Department of Agriculture
    Status: Open

    Comments: As of March 2017, EPA has convened a workgroup of 40 people representing states, technical advisers, EPA, and USDA. It will develop new asset management outreach tools directed towards local decision makers. The group will meet quarterly and plans to issue tools and resources by fall 2017.
    Recommendation: As EPA and USDA continue to consider ways to track and promote water utilities' implementation of asset management, the Administrator of EPA, and the Secretary of USDA, through the Rural Development Agency, should consider compiling into one document the existing cases and examples of the benefits and costs of asset management and widely share this information with water utilities.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In March 2017, EPA had convened a workgroup of 40 people representing states, technical advisers, EPA, and USDA. It will develop new asset management outreach tools directed towards local decision makers. The group will meet quarterly and plans to issue a best practices document by April 2017 and a webinar by May 2017.
    Director: Gomez, Jose A
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    3 open recommendations
    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA's oversight of the class II program is effective at protecting drinking water sources from the underground injection of large amounts of wastewater that will be produced with increasing domestic oil and gas production, and to support nationwide reporting goals until the national UIC database is complete, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should (1) improve the 7520 data for reporting purposes, as well as to help with quality assurance for the national UIC database, by developing and implementing a protocol for states and regions to enter data consistently and for regions to check 7520 data for consistency and completeness to ensure that data collected from state and EPA-managed class II programs are complete and comparable for purposes of reporting at a national level, and (2) in the interim, develop a method to use the 7520 database to report UIC data, including data on class II wells, until the national UIC database is fully populated with state data.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA said that its 7520 database is current as of 2014 and the quality assurance process has been completed. It is developing a method to use the database to report aggregated national data on the Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.
    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA's oversight of the class II program is effective at protecting drinking water sources from the underground injection of large amounts of wastewater that will be produced with increasing domestic oil and gas production, and to ensure that EPA maintains enforcement authority of state program requirements, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should (1) conduct a rulemaking to incorporate state program requirements, and changes to state program requirements, into federal regulations, and (2) at the same time, evaluate and consider alternative processes to more efficiently incorporate future changes to state program requirements into federal regulations without a rulemaking.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: EPA agrees with GAO's analysis that state program requirements and changes should be approved and codified in federal regulations. However, EPA does not agree with GAO's recommendation to conduct one comprehensive rulemaking to achieve this. In November 2016, EPA officials said they will continue to explore alternative methods for maintaining federal enforceability under the current statutory provisions; it plans to finish its efforts in January 2017. GAO will continue to monitor this recommendation.
    Recommendation: To ensure that EPA's oversight of the class II program is effective at protecting drinking water sources from the underground injection of large amounts of wastewater that will be produced with increasing domestic oil and gas production, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency should evaluate and revise, as needed, UIC program guidance on effective oversight to identify essential activities that EPA headquarters and regions need to conduct to effectively oversee state and EPA managed programs.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA stated that it has developed a national framework for oversight of the UIC program and to transfer knowledge to new staff. EPA said that it will continue to evaluate whether to update its guidance. We are continuing to monitor EPA's progress on this recommendation.
    Director: Gomez, Jose A
    Phone: (202) 512-3841

    4 open recommendations
    including 3 priority recommendations
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should develop and issue new regulations requiring that TMDLs include additional elements--and consider requiring the elements that are now optional--specifically, elements reflecting key features identified by NRC as necessary for attaining water quality standards, such as comprehensive identification of impairment and plans to monitor water bodies to verify that water quality is improving.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials stated that they agree that broad implementation and monitoring requirements would be helpful, but disagree that they should issue regulations. Officials stated that they continue to follow the state Water Quality Management Plan requirement related to GAO's recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should ensure more consistent application of existing TMDL elements and to provide greater assurance that TMDLs, if implemented, can achieve tangible water quality results, identify regional offices with criteria for interpreting and applying such elements in reviewing and approving state-developed TMDLs and issue guidance with more specificity, directing all regional offices to follow the same criteria, including requesting that states provide more-detailed information about pollution causes and abatement actions.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials said they had created a small workgroup to assess this recommendation. The group is continuing discussions about how to enhance consistent regional review. We will continue to monitor EPA's progress.
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should place conditions on states' annual use of nonpoint source management and water pollution control grants to ensure that the funds meet the purposes for which they are awarded and achieve greater reductions in nonpoint source pollution associated with TMDL implementation, such as by targeting funds to states and projects that incorporate factors needed for effective TMDL implementation (e.g., targeting grant funds to projects where implementation plans have been developed and where external agency assistance is available).

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials said that they believe the 2013 nonpoint source guidance substantially addresses this recommendation. Specifically, in April 2013, EPA issued revised guidance for awarding section 319 grants to states to implement nonpoint source management programs and projects. The guidance updates previous guidance to EPA regional offices and states in four key areas: (1) state nonpoint source management program plans, (2) funding distribution, (3) reviews of states' watershed-based plans, and (4) regional offices' annual progress determinations. While this encourages states to target nonpoint source funding to watersheds with TMDLs, it does not incentivize it with funding. EPA continues to discuss approaches to address this recommendation. GAO will continue to monitor the recommendation.
    Recommendation: To enhance the likelihood that TMDLs support the nation's waters' attainment of water quality standards and to strengthen water quality management, the Administrator of EPA should obtain missing data that currently impede EPA's efforts to determine whether and to what extent TMDLs have been implemented or to what extent implemented TMDLs have helped impaired waters attain water quality standards by (1) directing states to use and report specific Geographic Information Systems data when implementing projects to which TMDLs apply and (2) requesting that USDA ask landowners who participate in conservation programs funded by the department in areas subject to a TMDL to disclose information on the location, type, and number of projects implemented under these programs.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open
    Priority recommendation

    Comments: In November 2016, EPA officials said that they have created the Water Quality Framework to align and integrate the variety of water quality data in different systems. The first phase focuses on improvements to ATTAINS, the TMDL tracking system, to report on the status of healthy waters and restoring and improving impaired waters. EPA officials said that they have transitioned to the use of NHDPlus catchments to report on performance measures, allowing EPA to automate the calculation of data. In addition, in June 2016, EPA requested USDA to provide data on the location, type, and number of projects implemented by USDA programs. USDA has not provided the data. We will continue to monitor EPA's progress.
    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: As of May 2017, EPA reported that it had not resumed its data verification audits due to budgetary constraints, but was continuing on-site file reviews to support efficient and effective state programs. EPA completed 5 file reviews in 2015, 7 in 2016, and was planning to complete 10 in 2017. According to EPA, budgetary constraints may affect its ability to reach this goal. According to the agency, EPA continues to focus on developing its Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) Prime database, which it claims will reduce state burden, support effective management and prioritization of resources, and will enhance data quality and support the possibility of building an electronic data verification protocol. EPA said it plans to have the system operational in 2018. In addition, EPA said that it continues to provide training sessions as well as identify best practices that file reviewers can use to enhance file review implementation. For 2017-2018, EPA plans to continue quarterly national training events. A July 2017 report by EPA's Office of the Inspector General concluded that limitations to EPA's oversight tools impede the agency's ability to conduct consistent oversight of the national drinking water program and reduce the reliability of its monitoring and reporting data. The Inspector General did not make any recommendations because it concluded the agency is taking steps to address the shortcomings. For example, according to the Inspector General's report, EPA released the Compliance Monitoring Data Portal in September 2016. EPA water officials said the portal will enable public water systems and laboratories to report drinking water data electronically to primacy agencies. Utah became the first state to use the portal in March 2017 and EPA staff anticipate that five additional states will begin using the portal by the end of 2017. EPA anticipates this system will lead to fewer reporting errors, improved data quality, and reduced time needed to report state data to EPA.
    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: As of May 2017, EPA 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 Safe Drinking Water Information System (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 (Prime) 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, EPA will be able to consider developing goals for monitoring and reporting violations. As of May 2017, EPA is scheduled to have SDWIS Prime available for testing in September 2017 and available for state users at the end of March 2018. EPA 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: In August 2017, EPA told GAO that it continues to use a variety of tools and resources to identify strategies that will enhance how the agency conveys to the public information on drinking water quality and potential health risks associated with exposure to contaminants. With regard to GAO's recommendation, EPA told us it had previously collaborated with the EPA Regional managers to identify language that would enhance the communication of aggregate public health risk to consumers in regards to community water system measures. EPA developed the "person month" measure because it describes the percentage of people served by community water system that receive drinking water that meets all health-based drinking water standards, accounting for the duration of violations that occurred. EPA piloted this measure in Fiscal Year 2007 as an indicator measure. In Fiscal Year 2008, the measure was elevated to a strategic plan measure with established targets. After receiving positive response regarding this measure, in Fiscal Year 2015, the agency developed a "person month" measure for tribal community water systems. According to the agency, EPA will continue to take comments on existing and future measures during its 5 year strategic plan reviews.
    Director: Trimble, David C
    Phone: (202)512-9338

    2 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: In May 2017, while EPA cited the January 2016 document, "EPA's Protocol for the Regulatory Determinations 3," that includes clearer, more explicit description of the occurrence data EPA uses and the health assessment sources, it does not address the recommendation's intent that EPA 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 priority contaminants. Since most, if not all of the sources cited are data that EPA was using at the time the report was issued, GAO is keeping this recommendation open. As GAO 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: 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: As of May 2017, EPA indicated that its Drinking Water Standards and Health Advisories tables provide a summary of previously published concentrations of drinking water contaminants that are protective of public health, and that the agency periodically updates these tables to summarize health advisories and regulations published to date. Since the table was last updated in 2012, and work is underway to revise it and make the information more accessible, GAO will monitor EPA's progress before closing this recommendation.
    Director: Stephenson, John B
    Phone: (202)512-6225

    1 open recommendations
    Recommendation: The Administrator, EPA, should take a number of steps to further protect the American public from elevated lead levels in drinking water. Specifically, to improve EPA's ability to oversee implementation of the lead rule and assess compliance and enforcement activities, EPA should ensure that data on water systems' test results, corrective action milestones, and violations are current, accurate, and complete.

    Agency: Environmental Protection Agency
    Status: Open

    Comments: In June 2017, EPA reported to GAO that the agency had been working with states through face-to-face trainings and webinars on the reporting of milestone data. GAO will continue to monitor these efforts and reevaluate whether water systems' test results, corrective action milestones and violations are current, accurate and complete subsequent to the completion of the Compliance Monitoring Data Portal and the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) Prime, described briefly below. However, until these new tools are complete, the status of this recommendation remains open. According to EPA, SDWIS Prime will be available for testing in September 2017 and for state use at the end of March 2018. In an earlier update to GAO in June 2016, EPA highlighted several of its efforts to improve data quality, noting that it had given greater scrutiny to such improvements due to recent concerns about elevated lead in drinking water. For example, its SDWIS regional coordinators review all SDWIS data submissions for accuracy and timeliness before approving submittals to the agency. In addition, EPA provides the Regions and the States with a data quality matrix report that gives metrics on the accuracy and timeliness of the last submission, after each quarterly submission. The agency has also focused on promoting electronic reporting of drinking water data through development of the Compliance Monitoring Data Portal, and is developing SDWIS Prime to improve state program efficiency, automate candidate violation notifications, increase data submission quality, and promote reporting of compliance monitoring data.