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(Op-ed) Community Water Systems and the EPA: Providing Safe, Clean Drinking Water

Release Date: 4/29/2005
Contact Information: Roy Seneca (215) 814-5567

Contact: Roy Seneca (215) 814-5567
by Jon Capacasa
Director, Water Protection Division,
U.S. EPA Mid-Atlantic Region

Our nation=s public water systems provide us with one of the safest supplies of drinking water in the world. This year marks an important milestone for public health protection in America: the 30th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

We have plenty to celebrate, but we’re not ready to declare victory. With passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act, we not only started preventing pollution of our rivers, lakes, and streams that serve as sources of drinking water, we ensured better treatment at the water plant, and began educating consumers about the water coming out of the tap.

America’s drinking water infrastructure is enormous. More than 168,000 water systems supply the vast majority of America’s drinking water. This huge network delivers clean, safe drinking water to millions of people.

Whether your tap water comes from surface or ground water, all drinking water sources are vulnerable to contaminants from a variety of activities. The origin of contaminants might be in your neighborhood or many miles away. When rain falls, it picks up and carries pollutants, depositing them into lakes, rivers, wetlands, coastal waters and even underground sources of drinking water.

The best way to protect drinking water is to keep contaminants from entering source water. Multiple federal, state, and local laws and programs and individual actions help communities identify the sources of drinking water and potential threats.

Public water systems are the first line of defense to reduce or eliminate contaminants in source water. They collect and treat water, hire trained and qualified operators, and have an emergency response plan in the event it is needed. These community water plants test for up to 90 regulated contaminants, conduct extensive daily and monthly water tests, and prepare vulnerability assessments of their infrastructure.

After source water has been treated and disinfected, the distribution system delivers water through pumps and pipes to your home. Thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act, if systems have difficultly meeting regulations and providing safe, reliable drinking water, government agencies can help provide assistance. If all else fails, enforcement action can be taken against the system.

Constant vigilance to protect water before it becomes your drinking water is essential and involves all of us. The more you know about drinking water, the better equipped you are to help protect it. One way of learning about drinking water is through annual Consumer Confidence Reports that public water suppliers supply to all water customers. These reports tell you where your drinking water comes from, what’s in it, and how you can help protect it.

An informed, involved, and supportive public is the foundation of drinking water protection. What we do in the watershed can directly impact the quality of water that arrives at the treatment plant.

For additional information, visit EPA’s web site at or call 1-800-426-4791.