A New Round of Water Quality Reports Will Reach 254
Million Americans This Summer
By Rich Anderson, Ph.D., Senior Advisor to the Urban
It is time for water suppliers to send out their second annual water quality reports (consumer confidence reports) to consumers. The US Environmental Protection Agency is reminding water suppliers that, beginning this year, they must deliver the reports to their customers by July 1. The requirement will affect mayors across the nation because it applies to 55,000 water systems supplying 254 million people nationwide. In many cities local government is ultimately responsible for their water quality and public health. We need to ensure that our water resources are safe for our citizens and commerce, and every year the consumer confidence reports provide some measure of how well we are doing.
Consumer confidence reports are the centerpiece of the right-to-know provisions in the 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. The short reports tell citizens important information about the water flowing from their taps. The reports describe where the drinking water comes from and the levels of contaminants in the water, including a comparison of those levels with national drinking water standards. The reports must also explain any violations of drinking water standards and any other information the water supplier wants to provide, such as a description of how the water is treated.
"One of the simplest, most effective tools in protecting our environment is public information," said Chuck Fox, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water. Mr. Fox continued, "Consumer confidence reports will help generate communication between water suppliers and consumers. The reports provide information that Americans need to make decisions for themselves and for their communities."
EPA has created a series of public service announcements that water suppliers and others may use to let consumers know about new information available about their tap water. The ads highlight the availability of consumer confidence reports and the Ad Council recently endorsed the campaign. More information is available on the web at http://www.epa.gov/safewater/psa.html .
The first consumer confidence reports went out to consumers in October 1999. EPA praised water suppliers for their strong support of the rule. The requirement to distribute consumer confidence reports affects roughly 55,000 water systems, and they will reach as many as 254 million people nationwide. Large water systems mail the reports directly to their customers. In some states, small systems (serving fewer than 10,000 people) are allowed to distribute the reports through local newspapers and other means. The largest water systems must post their reports on the Internet so that it is easily accessible to all consumers. EPA established a local drinking water information web site that links to hundreds of reports from across the country: http://www.epa.gov/safewater/dwinfo.htm .
EPA and the states have reviewed many of the reports and are generally pleased with what they saw. EPA also identified several areas in the reports that would benefit from some improvements. In its announcement reminding water suppliers of the July 1 deadline, EPA has provided some elaboration on the areas of improvement. They are briefly described below, and the reader is referred to another web site address for greater detail, http://www.epa.gov/safewater/ccrl.html .
EPAís Suggested Consumer Confidence Report
Mandatory Language: Be sure to include all the required educational information. The warnings for vulnerable populations and the notice for non-English speaking populations are essential and should be featured near the beginning of the report where people will notice them.
Violations: If your system violated any rules, including monitoring and reporting rules, you must report the violation in your CCR. Explain each violation, including what caused the violation, how the system is fixing the problem, the length of the violation, and the potential health effects.
Non-Detected Contaminants: If you want to list non-detected contaminants, you must separate them from the table of contaminants that you did detect. Some reports mixed the dozens of non-detected contaminants in the table with the detected contaminants. This makes it hard for customers to pick out the few contaminants that are in the water, and increases the length of the report.
Likely Sources of Detected Contaminants: Your CCR must list the likely source of each detected contaminant, using the best information you have. For example, if there is no metal refinery in your area, donít list metal refineries as the likely source of a contaminant in your water. Remember that if your source water assessment is complete, you should tell your customers how to get a copy of it, and use the information in it to explain the sources of contaminants in your water.
Lead/Copper Results: Report the 90th percentile levels for lead and copper (if detected), as well as the number of sites that exceeded the action levels. Since the columns for lead and copper will have headings different from other contaminants, you might want to make a separate table for lead and copper. If your system exceeded the lead action level in 5 to 10 percent of sample sites, include the lead educational statement. If your system exceeded the action level in 10 percent (or more) of sites, explain the potential health effects, the length of the violation, and the steps taken to reduce lead levels.
Report Formatting Tips: If you operate a small system, and your first CCR took more than 4 pages you may have gone beyond the minimum requirements. A small system CCR can fit on one two-sided page.
Distribution Reminders: One of the goals here is to look for ways to get the CCR in the hands of as many people as possible. You are encouraged to go beyond the minimum requirement. Remember to send a copy of the CCR to your state drinking water office. You may also want to send the completed certification form (which is not due till October 1, 2000) to the state at the same time. You should also be prepared to send the report to anyone who requests it.