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Water: Safe Drinking Water Act

House Committee Report on H.R. 3604 Report 104-632 Part I


Section 401. Definitions

Section 401(a) amends section 1401(1)(D) of the definition of 'primary drinking water regulation' to authorize EPA, at any time after promulgating a regulation, to issue guidance allowing the use of other equally effective methods to comply with the monitoring requirements of the regulation.

Section 401(b) modifies the definition of a public water system to include the supplying of water for human consumption through pipes and "other constructed conveyances." The term "constructed conveyance" refers to transport systems such as ditches, canals, culverts, waterways and similar delivery systems that are manmade and that transport large quantities of water in a utility network. The term does not include water delivered by bottle or in other package units, by vending machines or coolers and does not include water that is trucked or delivered by a similar vehicle.

Section 401(b) further modifies the definition of a public water system by excluding from consideration certain connections that might otherwise qualify a system as a public water system. Except as noted below, these exclusions only apply where the water is delivered by a constructed conveyance other than a pipe.

The first exclusion applies when water delivered by the constructed conveyance is used exclusively for purposes other than residential uses (consisting of drinking, bathing, and cooking) or other similar uses (Section 1401(4)(B)(I)(f)). The water supplied, in this case, is not allowed nor intended to be used for residential or similar uses; and, therefore the water system is excluded from this provision .

The second exclusion applies when water is provided by the system for residential or similar uses from another source such as bottled water or trucked water (Section 1401(4)(B)(I)(II)). To qualify for this exclusion, the alternative source of water for these uses must be provided (not merely be available). By requiring the alternative supply of water to be "provided," the Committee does not intend the water to be provided for free of charge. As with a public water system, the water system may charge users for the reasonable costs of the water supplied.

The third exclusion applies where the water delivered by constructed conveyances is used for residential or similar uses, but the water is treated prior to use (See new section 1401(4)(B)(I)(III)). In this instance, the water may be treated centrally or at the point-of-entry to a residence or other facility where similar uses occur by the system, by a pass-through entity or by the consumer. As a general principle, the Safe Drinking Water Act does not allow a public water system to place the burden of compliance on the customer. However, the Committee recognizes that in several situations it may be appropriate to allow customers to assume this obligation. First, in some instances, customers who receive water from constructed conveyances have already taken it upon themselves to install point-of-entry units. In this case, a water system should not have to replace the unit or duplicate treatment. Second, in many rural areas, a water system that is constructed principally for irrigation or other agricultural and industrial uses may not desire to be regulated as a public water system and would decline to provide water to residential users if the system were required to provide the treatment centrally. Therefore, the obligation to treat the water to a level of public health protection equivalent to the applicable national primary drinking water regulation may be assumed by the consumer to assure that people living in rural areas are not precluded from obtaining the best quality water at an affordable cost.

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To qualify for either of the two latter exclusions the State (or the Administrator in the case of a State without primacy) must make the factual determination that the alternative water or treated water used for residential or similar uses actually achieves the equivalent level of public health protection provided by the applicable national primary drinking water regulation. This determination is distinct from the question of who may bear the responsibility for actually providing treatment.

Generally, the bill excludes these two types of connections from consideration only where the connection is to a water system that conveys water by means other that pipes. Piped water systems may not avoid regulation as public water systems by providing bottled water or by treating at the point of entry. However, an exception is made for some piped water delivery systems that were in operation prior to May 18, 1994, and that were constructed principally for the purpose of agricultural service with only incidental use for human consumption. These piped systems are not to be considered public water systems if they comply with the requirements applicable under one or the other of the exclusions for alternative water or point-of-entry treatment available under section 401(b).

The Committee anticipates that this statutory scheme will result in the most economical supply of safe drinking water to consumers. The Committee anticipates, however, that the adoption of point-of-entry or other treatment, while perhaps providing an economical supply of drinking water over the long-term, may impose significant short-term costs on systems and consumers. Thus, section 1452(a)(2) makes providers eligible for loans for the purpose of providing the treatment described in section 1401(4)(B)(I)(III). With the availability of such assistance, providers may be able to obtain technology at lower cost and pass those savings on to the customer.

The amendments to section 1401 concerning the definition of a "public water system" are not intended to alter the criteria for the related section 1411 "coverage" provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act. However, the Committee recognizes that some applications of section 1411 could inadvertently cause duplicative or unnecessary compliance activities for some systems that purchase finished water that is then submetered to encourage consumers to utilize a lesser volume of such water. The Committee agrees with the letter received from the Environmental Protection Agency, provided in the Appendix, that the current statutory language provides States with the flexibility to avoid duplication of compliance activities. Further, the Committee encourages EPA to review its guidance on such matters to prevent duplicative or unnecessary regulations that do not further public health protection and which could inhibit other goals which would reduce the volume of finished water needed.

Section 401 also requires the General Accounting Office to undertake a study to determine the number of individuals and households served by systems using the alternatives in new section 1401(4)(B), as well as the sources and costs of potable water they are provided. In addition, the GAO is to review State and water system compliance with the exclusion provisions. A report based on this effort is due within three years after enactment.

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