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Water: Office of Ground Water & Drinking Water

All About the Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water

 The Environmental Protection Agency's Office of Ground Water and Drinking Water (OGWDW), together with states, tribes, and its many partners, protects public health by ensuring safe drinking water and protecting ground water. OGWDW, along with EPA's ten regional drinking water programs, oversees implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which is the national law safeguarding tap water in America. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires public water systems to provide drinking water that meets safety standards and protects sources of drinking water, including rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, or ground water wells. Approximately 90% of Americans rely on public water systems for their drinking water at home; the other 10% have private wells, which are not federally regulated. Almost everyone drinks water from a public system at some point: while at school, at work, in a restaurant, or on vacation.

OGWDW develops and helps implement national drinking water standards; oversees, assists and helps fund state drinking water programs and source water protection programs; helps small drinking water systems; protects underground sources of drinking water through the Underground Injection Control Program; and provides information to the public. OGWDW also works in cooperation with states, tribes, and EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance to guarantee that water systems meet these protective standards.

Setting National Drinking Water Standards

OGWDW sets national standards for drinking water, which either limit the amount of a particular contaminant in drinking water or require a certain treatment to remove or inactivate a contaminant. Both types of standards protect public health. When setting these standards, OGWDW uses sound data and peer-reviewed science to focus on the contaminants which present the greatest public health risk and which appear most frequently in drinking water. OGWDW also identifies sub-populations most vulnerable to drinking water contaminants, such as infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly, and the immunocompromised, and considers the risk to these sensitive sub-populations when setting safety standards. As part of the standard-setting process, OGWDW relies on input from all interested parties, looks at whether drinking water regulations are cost effective, determines appropriate procedures for analyzing samples of drinking water, and identifies affordable ways to treat drinking water.

Working with States and Tribes to Implement the Drinking Water Program

States and tribes work directly with water systems to implement the national drinking water program. To implement the drinking water program, each state or tribe must establish a drinking water program that is at least as stringent as the federal program (some states have stricter programs), assure that water systems meet safety standards, and adopt and implement adequate enforcement procedures (called primacy). If a state or tribe is unable to meet the requirements for primacy, or is simply unwilling, EPA's regional offices will directly implement the drinking water program in that jurisdiction. OGWDW provides grants, training, and technical assistance to help states and tribes successfully carry out the provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. OGWDW also administers the drinking water state revolving loan fund, and grants funds to states, that loan money to water systems to install or upgrade facilities and to replace aging pipes and other infrastructure. The fund's policy is to support all water systems in need, including assisting small and disadvantaged communities, and protecting sources of drinking water from contamination.

Assistance for Small Drinking Water Systems

The vast majority of water systems in the United States serve fewer than 3,300 people. Small water systems incur greater costs per household because they must spread the cost of infrastructure improvement over a smaller customer base. In fact, small systems could incur three times as much cost per household to continue to provide safe drinking water in the future as compared to that of larger systems. OGWDW assists small systems by identifying affordable and effective ways for small systems to treat water for their customers and providing technical and financial assistance.

Voluntary Programs with Water Systems: The Partnership for Safe Water

The Partnership for Safe Water is a unique cooperative effort between OGWDW and over 100 large water systems that join the partnership to provide protection beyond what is currently required by federal law to their customers from Cryptosporidium, Giardia and other microbial contaminants.

Protecting Drinking Water at its Source and Protecting Ground Water

OGWDW is working with states so that they can determine, no later than 2003, how susceptible drinking water sources are to contamination. States and water suppliers will share this information (compiled into source water assessments) with the public so that communities can protect their drinking water sources. OGWDW also oversees programs that protect aquifers which serve as the primary source of drinking water for one or more communities (sole source aquifers), and works with states to implement wellhead protection programs, under which states protect the land around wells from contaminants. Through the Underground Injection Control program, OGWDW protects underground sources of drinking water. Injection deep into the earth is a common way of disposing of hazardous waste. If not injected properly, these wastes can contaminate sources of drinking water. OGWDW sets standards for safe injection practices, and bans certain types of injection altogether. A number of other EPA programs also protect drinking water from potential sources of contamination. For instance, the Superfund program cleans-up hazardous waste sites, while other programs regulate landfills, discharges to water, underground storage tanks, and chemicals used on farms and lawns. OGWDW works with other EPA offices to support efforts to coordinate these and many other programs to provide comprehensive protection of the nation's ground water resource.

Collecting and Providing Information to the Public

Public information and public involvement are critically important to the successful implementation of the drinking water program. OGWDW works through an advisory committee, the National Drinking Water Advisory Council, and solicits other input through public meetings with states, tribes, water systems, environmental and other groups, and the public. OGWDW is working with these partners and others to provide information to citizens and communities on the quality of their local drinking water. OGWDW collects information on every public water system, such as how many people each system serves and whether each is meeting drinking water standards. This information is stored in the Safe Drinking Water Information System, and is used to help OGWDW understand whether systems are complying with drinking water safety standards. OGWDW is also collecting information on the occurrence of contaminants which may need to be regulated in the future, and storing this information in the National Contaminant Occurrence Database. OGWDW is providing materials to help water systems prepare annual water quality reports (consumer confidence reports) and notify consumers of water emergencies, and is helping consumers use this information to make decisions. OGWDW maintains a web site (http://www.epa.gov/safewater/) and the Safe Drinking Water Hotline (1-800-426-4791) to make drinking water information easily available, and has also recently established the Drinking Water Academy to provide further training.

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