Drinking Water Program:

States Face Increased Difficulties in Meeting Basic Requirements

RCED-93-144: Published: Jun 25, 1993. Publicly Released: Aug 4, 1993.

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GAO provided information on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) efforts to enforce national drinking water regulations, focusing on: (1) whether states are meeting drinking water program primacy requirements; (2) EPA actions in response to states that are not able to meet program requirements; and (3) whether EPA has the capability to take over state programs if necessary.

GAO found that: (1) continuing resource constraints hinder many states' ability to comply with expanding EPA drinking water program monitoring, enforcement, and other primacy requirements; (2) EPA has formally initiated primacy withdrawal actions for three states after determining that the states had inadequate program resources or were incapable of meeting drinking water requirements; (3) although EPA has issued guidance to states and set 5-year program activity priorities so that states can effectively manage their resource problems, the guidance fails to directly address the problem of insufficient resources, inadequately addresses or postpones many important program responsibilities, and unreasonably assumes that states will resolve their financial dilemma at the end of the 5-year period; and (4) if EPA revokes the states' program primacy authority, it will not have sufficient staffing to adequately administer state programs that do not meet the program's primacy requirements, be forced to concentrate on enforcement activities rather than technical assistance, create an unmanageable enforcement workload, increase water systems costs, and provide only limited consumer protection.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: EPA has been unable to increase the budget for this program; in fact, the budget has decreased. The budget mark provided to EPA by the Office of Management and Budget at the beginning of each budget cycle has precluded EPA from increasing the budget for drinking water, according to EPA's drinking water program manager. EPA officials are expected, once the administration's budget has been proposed, to support the budget rather than to work for increases in meetings with the committees.

    Recommendation: As part of the EPA strategy to deal with the drinking water program's funding crisis, the Administrator, EPA, should work with the cognizant committees of Congress to identify a funding level for the program that: (1) will maintain the integrity of the program; and (2) better reflects the program's importance in protecting human health. This remedy should be part of an integrated strategy that also considers the need to: (1) find innovative and cost-effective alternatives to achieve compliance; and (2) bring the program's spiraling regulatory costs under control.

    Agency Affected: Environmental Protection Agency


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