Enforcement and Inspection, Special Topics in Environmental Management

Small Water Systems Awash in Noncompliance

Taking enforcement action against violating small community water systems (SCWSs) can be a complete waste of time, which makes it clear that other approaches are needed to bring the thousands of such systems into compliance with their Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) obligations.

That’s the main conclusion to draw from a report by EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) on violations of the nation’s more than 42,000 SCWSs. An “SCWS” is defined as one that serves 3,300 or fewer residents year-round. Collectively, SCWSs serve about 24 million people nationwide. In October 2011, the EPA classified 2,252 SCWSs as serious violators. These included 193 systems with Tier 1 violations.

Tier 1 violations are the most serious SDWA violations and can have a direct impact on the health of people consuming the water. Upon discovery of a Tier 1 violation, a system must notify customers within 24 hours. The types of Tier 1 violations noted in the OIG report include failure to maintain microbial treatment, exceedance of fecal coliform limits, or a positive test for contamination.

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