Proposed EPA Budget May Fund Contamination Warning System

The Bush Administration’s proposed budget for EPA includes $37.7 million for further development of the WaterSentinel Initiative...

The Bush Administration’s proposed budget for EPA includes $37.7 million for further development of the WaterSentinel Initiative, a project to design, deploy, and evaluate a model contamination warning system for drinking water security.

The WaterSentinel program is EPA’s response to Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9 (HSPD-9), which directs EPA to develop surveillance and monitoring systems to provide early detection of water contamination.

EPA plans to work with industry partners to develop a system that includes use of monitoring technologies and strategies to collect, integrate, analyze, and communicate timely warnings of water contamination incidents. The goal is to provide municipalities with enough warning to minimize the public health and economic impacts of contamination.

In order to support the monitoring and response to an incident, HSPD-9 also directs EPA to develop nationwide laboratory networks that integrate existing federal and state laboratory resources.

The WaterSentinel pilot initiative was officially launched last year but EPA has been laying the groundwork for some time. Its early activities included beginning the design of a model contamination warning system, analysis of contaminants that could be effectively monitored for a timely response, the development of consequence management protocols for response to a potential incident, and research into technologies that could be candidates for deployment.

Although EPA is refining its conceptual design for the program, WaterSentinel uses a four-fold approach to contaminant detection:

• monitoring of water quality parameters;
• direct monitoring and laboratory analysis of high priority chemical, biological, and radiological contaminants;
• integration of water system data with existing public health surveillance systems; and
• active surveillance of customer complaints

EPA plans to identify a utility, laboratories and supporting partners to pilot WaterSentinel. In addition to these pilot locations, EPA envisions collaborating with its partners in the water sector (e.g., water utilities, laboratories, states, emergency responders, public health officials, law enforcement, federal agencies, technical experts, among others) to solicit input for WaterSentinel throughout the design and implementation of the project.

For example, water sector partners can provide guidance on the design of the model contamination warning system, identify the dual use benefits at the various stages throughout the pilot study, participate in the development of performance measures, participate in the technical review and evaluation of guidance documents and materials and, in some cases, participate in training and table-top exercises.

For manufacturers interested in participating, the program will rely on the Technology Testing and Evaluation Panel (TTEP) program in EPA’s Office of Research and Development for analysis of technologies that could be candidates for deployment in a contamination warning system. Through TTEP, EPA will evaluate existing detection and sensor equipment, as well as data management integration software, among others, to determine which technologies could have application for WaterSentinel.

More information about the program can be found on EPA’s Water Security Web site, A variety of publications are available in PDF format, including a WaterSentinel fact sheet; a document outlining the program’s management strategy; another on water quality monitoring as an indicator for drinking water contamination; and an overview of event detection systems. Click on the site’s “publications” link and then “view all water security publications.”

EPA Considers Revisions to Affordability Criteria for Small Water Systems

EPA is considering revisions to the system it uses to determine if new rules are affordable for small drinking water systems, and the system it uses for deciding what “variance” technologies would be considered affordable for small systems.

The 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments allows states to grant variances to small drinking water systems for drinking water standards that EPA determines are unaffordable (variances are not available for microbial contaminants). Such a variance would allow a small system to use a treatment technology that is both affordable and protects public health but does not remove the contaminant to the degree specified by the drinking water regulation.

EPA’s proposal responds to a request from Congress and other stakeholders that EPA review its approach for assessing the affordability of drinking water regulations.

The proposal describes a number of options for revising the affordability methodology. The goal is to help small systems that are struggling to afford the cost of compliance with new drinking water rules, and increase the likelihood that small systems variances will be available for states to grant for future drinking water regulations.

EPA is requesting comment upon whether or not the agency should evaluate affordability strictly on a national level, or use a two step process that includes both a national level evaluation of affordability and a second analysis conducted at the county level.

Other options being considered include:

− Should EPA continue to use the median (or middle sized) as representative of each of the system size categories specified under the Safe Drinking Water Act, or should it use the 10th percentile (a system that serves fewer people than 90% of the other systems in the category)?

− Should EPA continue to use 2.5% of median household income (~ $1,000) as the affordability threshold (the maximum annual cost that is affordable to customers served by small systems), or should any of the three alternative thresholds be considered: .25% ($100 to $110); .50% ($200 to $220); or .75% ($310 - $330)?

EPA also is trying to decide what it means to be “sufficiently protective of public health” when using a variance technology. The agency is considering allowing a contaminant concentration of up to three times the allowable MCL.

EPA would view this 3x level as a general guideline which might be modified for a specific contaminant if unusual factors associated with the contaminant or EPA’s risk assessment suggested that an alternate level, whether higher or lower, was appropriate.

The proposed revisions were published in the Federal Register on March 2. Comments are due by May 1.

USGS Examines Pesticides in Water

The U.S. Geological Survey has reported that pesticides in water are seldom at concentrations likely to affect humans.

The agency, which studied pesticides in streams and ground water during 1992-2001, found they were typically present throughout the year in most streams in urban and agricultural areas, but were less common in ground water. It said in many streams, particularly those draining urban and agricultural areas, pesticides were found at concentrations that may affect aquatic life or fish-eating wildlife.

The USGS said the findings show strong relations between the occurrence of pesticides and their use, although use of some of the frequently detected pesticides -- including the insecticide diazinon and the herbicides alachlor and cyanazine -- is declining.

USGS based its report on data collected from 51 major river basins and aquifer systems. It said pesticides concentrations exceeded human health standards in less than 10% of the sampled stream sites and about 1% of domestic and public-supply wells. More than 80% of urban streams and more than 50% of agricultural streams had concentrations of at least one pesticide that exceeded a water-quality benchmark for aquatic life.

“The data shows an urgent need to strengthen policies at all levels of government and curtail pesticide use,” said Jay Feldman, executive director of Beyond Pesticides, a national advocacy group.

Group Pledges to Protect Sources of Drinking Water

EPA and 13 national organizations are participating in a Source Water Collaborative effort to protect safe drinking water now and into the future. The organizations recently signed a vision statement expressing their commitment to safe drinking water.

The vision statement begins, “We, the undersigned organizations committed to safe drinking water, hereby agree to work together at the source - on the lakes, streams, rivers and aquifers we tap for drinking water and on the land which protects and recharges those bodies of water.”

The document was signed by executives from such organizations as the AWWA, AMWA, NRWA and ASDWA.

“As the population grows and the countryside develops, drinking water protection should be integrated into land-use planning and stewardship; road, sewer and water projects; farming, industry and development practices; waste disposal methods; watershed planning, protection and clean-up; and the routine decisions Americans make every day,” the vision statement says.

By participating in the Source Water Collaborative, the organizations agree to:

• Share information with each other, through regular communication and during quarterly meetings. This includes sharing the most recent findings around the best practices in source water protection and the needs of people who make the decisions for both community planning and stewardship purposes.

• Develop recommendations together with stakeholders in land stewardship and planning about what is needed to protect sources of drinking water.

• Package and disseminate these recommendations, through the membership of the organizations, with partners and through the media, in ways that are useful in land-use and stewardship decisions.

The group’s goals include encouraging actions that:

• Contain or prevent contaminants, including pesticides, fertilizer, industrial waste, petroleum by-products and other runoff, from reaching the sources of drinking water;

• Promote development patterns that limit threats to the integrity of lakes, rivers, ground water, water recharge areas or other sources of drinking water;

• Encourage matching uses of land with locations least likely to affect current or future sources of drinking water; and

• Preserve the land needed to protect the quality of current and future sources of drinking water.

Additional information on the Vision Statement can be found on the EPA’s Source Water Protection website at

More in Drinking Water