Water: Small Systems and Capacity Development
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What are Small Public Water Systems?
More than 94 percent of the nation’s 156,000 public water systems serve fewer than 3,300 persons. These systems—classified as small by EPA—face unique financial and operational challenges in providing drinking water that meets EPA standards. EPA is committed to giving small systems the financial and technical resources they need to provide safe drinking water now and in the future.
What Challenges Do Small Systems Face?
Given their small customer base, many small water systems cannot develop or access the technical, managerial and financial resources needed to comply with the increasing number of EPA regulations and rising customer expectations. These water systems may be geographically isolated. Their staffs often lack the time or expertise to make needed infrastructure repairs; install or operate treatment; or develop comprehensive source water protection plans, financial plans or asset management plans.
How Can the Public Help Small Public Water Systems?
Local officials and consumers play an important role in helping small water systems develop the technical, managerial and financial capabilities to meet regulatory requirements and protect public health. Besides protecting public health, communities that support their water systems are making long-term investments in environmental quality and economic well-being.
- EPA’s Local Drinking Water Information page
- Safe Drinking Water Hotline Frequently Asked Questions page
How Do EPA, States, and Technical Assistance Providers Help Small Public Water Systems?
EPA is committed to helping small water systems provide safe drinking water and provides comprehensive support through publications, training, and technical and financial assistance. States and technical assistance providers offer complementary, targeted support that can directly address state- or system-specific needs and concerns.
What is Capacity Development?
Capacity development in small systems is a fundamental goal of the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments, which provide a framework within which states and water systems can work together to ensure that systems can achieve the SDWA’s public health protection objectives now and in the future. Every state has developed a capacity development program to ensure that small water systems have the tools and support necessary to build capacity.
- National Characteristics of Drinking Water Systems Serving Populations Under 10,000 (PDF) (87 pp, 1.3MB, About PDF)
(EPA 816-R-99-010, July 1999) Detailed information on the universe of small water systems in the United States.
- Montana Water’s Protecting Public Health in Small Public Water Systems: Report of an International Colloquium (PDF) (52 pp. 1.4MB, About PDF)
An in-depth look at the challenges faced by many small systems and options for addressing them.
- Tribal Drinking Water Programs
Provides information on—and capacity development resources for—small tribal drinking water systems in the United States.
- EPA’s Sustainable Infrastructure Initiative
Guidance and links to additional resources on ensuring the long-term sustainability of water system infrastructure through better management, full-cost pricing, efficient water use, and watershed approaches to protection.
- Operator Certification
Information on state and system requirements for ensuring that system operators have the proper qualifications and technical knowledge for routine operation and emergency response.
- Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF)
Guidance and factsheets on using low-interest DWSRF loans and other assistance to cover the costs of infrastructure projects, technical assistance, source water protection, and many other critical projects for small water systems. Includes links to state DWSRF programs.
- Small Communities (Wastewater)
Information for small water system operators, community leaders, non-governmental organizations, other federal agencies, and the general public on improving wastewater services in small communities.
- National Drinking Water Advisory Council
The National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC), comprised of members from the general public, state and local agencies, and private groups concerned with safe drinking water, was created to advise EPA's Administrator on drinking water issues.