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Water: Safe Drinking Water Act


November 29, 1995 ---- S17773



Mr. Kempthorne. Some questions have arisen about how section 24(b) of the bill, which amends the definition of public water systems, applies to certain irrigation systems. As the committee report explains, the provision is intended to address a narrow set of situations, such as the one that was involved in the Imperial Irrigation court decision, where an irrigation system is knowingly providing drinking water to a large number of customers. However, it is my understanding that the provision does not apply to irrigation systems that only intend to provide water for such purposes as irrigation and stock watering, and do not intend that water be withdrawn for drinking water use.

Mr. Baucus. I agree with Senator KEMPTHORNE's interpretation. In the arid west, where irrigation systems may cover vast distances, it would be unfair and impractical to treat an irrigation system as a public water system just because a number of people withdraw water for drinking water use without the permission or knowledge of the system, and I do not believe that the provision applies to such situations.

Mr. Kempthorne. Does the manager of the bill share this view.

Mr. Chafee. Yes. The Safe Drinking Water Act defines a public water system as a system for the provision to the public of piped water for human consumption, if such a system has at least 15 service connections or regularly serves at least 25 individuals. In describing a public water system, EPA's regulations and guidance use such terms as "serves" and "delivers," usually in the context of "customers." These terms are clearly contrary to a situation where the irrigation system does not either consent to having water withdrawn for human consumption, or know that such withdrawals are occurring with respect to the requisite number of connections or customers.

Mr. Kempthorne. Questions also have arisen about how the new provision would apply to irrigation systems that provide water to municipal drinking water systems, which then treat the water and provide it to customers for human consumption. Would these irrigation systems be treated as public water systems on this basis?

Mr. Chafee. No. Under the new provision, a connection is not considered, for purposes of determining whether an entity is a public water system, if the water is treated by a pass-through entity to achieve a level of treatment equivalent to the level provided by applicable drinking water regulations. In the case you describe, the municipal water system would be providing such treatment, and the irrigation system's provision of water to the municipal water system would not be considered a connection.

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