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Safe Drinking Water Law Turns 30 - By Donald S. Welsh, Regional Administrator, mid-Atlantic Region U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Release Date: 12/16/2004
Contact Information: Liz Ferry, 215-814-2909

Liz Ferry, 215-814-2909

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is marking the 30th anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, a landmark piece of legislation that ensures every American has safe, clean water to drink.

Pennsylvania has a long history of protecting its water supply. People like Ben Franklin and Frederic Graff created America=s first major urban water supply system on the Schuylkill River. These men were ahead of their time. They recognized the importance of striking a proper balance between the needs of society and the needs of nature.

Their remarkable vision helped establish Pennsylvania as a leader in the Industrial Revolution, and as a leader in protecting our natural resources. Their example is one we should honor today as we seek the appropriate balance between the needs in 21st Century America and the timeless needs of our environment.

There is no doubt that those who came before us have met their duty as stewards. Now, we must continue to meet ours.

The past three decades have brought tremendous environmental improvements. The nation=s water is cleaner than it was 30 years ago. A concerted effort to protect the nation=s waters has reduced discharges of pollutants to surface water and improved safety of drinking water supplies. Today, 94 percent of the population served by community water systems meet all health-based standards. Remarkably, this progress has occurred even as the U.S. gross domestic product increased 161 percent, energy consumption increased 42 percent, and the population of the nation has increased 43 percent.

The overall health of our marine waters, lakes, rivers, streams, and wetlands has also improved. About 165 million citizens now benefit from modern sewage treatment, up from 86 million in 1968. The important advances in waste water treatment since the 1970's constitute one of the major achievements in modern American public health.

As regional administrator, I search for partners with whom the EPA can work in pursuit of shared goals. One such partner is the Schuylkill Action Network, a collaborative effort of over 60 organizations, which is striving to accelerate the pace of environmental improvement in the Schuylkill River watershed. The network includes all levels of government, nonprofit organizations, foundations, businesses, and individuals.

The Schuylkill River watershed is a source of drinking water for more than 1.5 million people. Eleven counties and 232 municipalities make up the watershed, which spans from Pottsville to Reading to the City of Philadelphia at the river=s base.

Protecting water from pollution at its source, instead of at the treatment plant, is a much more cost-effective and preventative approach. The Schuylkill Action Network is working to stop pollution where it starts by eliminating runoff from storm water, runoff from farms, acid mine drainage, and pathogens. This effort includes stopping discharge of raw sewage into the river, reducing metal-laden water flow from deep mines, developing conservation plans for local farmers, and planting shrubs and trees on stream banks to reduce water run-off when it rains.

On the 30th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, it=s important that each of us take time to learn more about how our own daily activities might be threatening the watersheds in which we live. What happens in a community miles away can effect the quality of drinking water in neighborhoods throughout Pennsylvania.

I encourage everyone to get involved in protecting their watershed and the valuable sources of our water supply. For additional information about the Schuylkill Action Network, visit the web site at