Observations on Compliance and Enforcement in EPA's Drinking Water Program

T-RCED-91-47: Published: May 10, 1991. Publicly Released: May 10, 1991.

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GAO discussed the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) and states' implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, focusing on the: (1) extent to which community water systems complied with monitoring requirements and drinking water standards; (2) effectiveness of state and EPA enforcement efforts in ensuring compliance; and (3) impact of new drinking water requirements. GAO noted that: (1) many water systems, particularly smaller systems, violated water quality monitoring requirements and drinking water standards; (2) EPA probably could not detect some water quality standard violations due to water system operator errors; (3) some water systems falsified data and manipulated test results; (4) states' sanitary survey programs were inconsistent; (5) states' and EPA enforcement actions aimed at deterring violations and ensuring system compliance fell short of EPA program requirements and were ineffective in achieving their objectives; (6) 1986 amendments to the act will probably make compliance more difficult to achieve and enforcement problems more difficult to resolve; (7) EPA issued guidance policies to EPA regions and states, but lacked a system for ensuring that water systems complied with those policies; and (8) it would be difficult to determine the extent to which water systems corrected their problems unless EPA increases its oversight activities.

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