Meeting Small System Needs Will Be Challenging, GAO Reports

The General Accounting Office reports the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments have been smoothly implemented so far, but challenges lie ahead. The congressional watchdog agency said EPA and the states have met the initial SDWA requirements. "Of particular note, EPA has met all of its statutory requirements to develop regulations and guidelines," GAO said in a press release.

The General Accounting Office reports the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments have been smoothly implemented so far, but challenges lie ahead. The congressional watchdog agency said EPA and the states have met the initial SDWA requirements. "Of particular note, EPA has met all of its statutory requirements to develop regulations and guidelines," GAO said in a press release.

"For their part, the states have made important strides in setting up their drinking water revolving funds and working to meet other initial requirements to prepare needed strategies and programs.

"Yet, as noteworthy as these initial efforts have been, the most difficult challenge deals with the longer-term question of implementation - implementation of the new contaminant standards (including monitoring water systems compliance with the standards), the provisions to ensure the viability of thousands of smaller water systems, and the numerous other requirements associated with this statute.

"Meeting those longer-term challenges will call for a sustained effort by EPA, the states, and the nations public water systems and will warrant continuous oversight by the Congress."

GAO said EPA is working to meet the SDWA requirements to complete contaminant standards that were in process at the time of reauthorization, including standards for arsenic and radon.

"Many of these standards - which could impose significant costs for some drinking water systems - may be questioned by the regulated community as being inadequately supported by the research on health effects."

It said states will be particularly challenged by a 2003 deadline to assess each of the more than 170,000 public water systems in the nation for their vulnerability to contamination.

GAO said EPA has issued a rule requiring water systems to issue annual reports to their customers but will be challenged to determine what constitutes an adequate report.

It said the states have made progress in implementing the capacity development requirements for new systems and in reporting on existing systems with a history of noncompliance.

Budget plans

EPAs proposed $7.2 billion budget for fiscal 2000 would continue several of the White Houses key water programs.

Budget plans

Under the Clean Water Action Plan, EPA asked for $651 million to restore rivers, lakes, and coastal waters, as well as the restoration of watersheds. Administrator Carol Browner said EPA is making "great progress" with the program.

Budget plans

The EPA budget includes a proposal to give states more flexibility in addressing the problem of polluted runoff from city streets, suburban lawns, and rural areas. It would allow states the option to set aside 20 percent of their Clean Water State Revolving Fund allotment for non-point source pollution projects, estuary management, and other water quality projects.

Budget plans

"This is a great opportunity for communities, and Im asking Congress to join us in providing states and tribes with this additional flexibility," Browner said.

Budget plans

The EPA budget seeks $1.625 billion for the Clean Water and Drinking Water State Revolving Fund programs that provide financial aid for the construction of drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities and other water quality projects.

Budget plans

But Rep. Bud Schuster (R-Pa.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the administrations budget would cut more than $800 million from Clean Water infrastructure funding.

Budget plans

"With $39 billion in unmet needs for clean water infrastructure nationwide, we should be increasing, not decreasing, our investment in clean water," he said.

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