Water: Small Systems and Capacity Development
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This page contains information intended to help states, technical assistance providers, and small water systems identify their compliance options.
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Compliance Options for Small Systems
States and technical assistance providers play a key role in helping small water systems understand and evaluate the many approaches to protecting public health and ensuring safe drinking water. Non-treatment options should be considered first because small systems often lack the financial and technical resources to install new treatment. If there are no practical or cost-effective non-treatment alternatives, small systems should consider treatment options.
States and technical assistance providers can work with small water systems to review the options listed below, keeping in mind the systems' financial and technical limitations. Additional resources are provided, where available.
- Visit the Regulations 101 page for more information on the regulations that apply to small water systems.
Source Water Protection
This is the first barrier against drinking water contamination. It is important to evaluate:
- Source water quality.
- Potential protection measures (e.g., installing security around the water supply, posting notices in the watershed area, or organizing volunteers to conduct source water monitoring).
- Associated costs.
- Visit EPA’s Source Water Protection page for information on helping systems choose the best available source of drinking water, identify potential sources of contamination, and implement a source water protection plan.
- Replace or Modify an Existing Source
Some systems may have access to another, higher quality water source, or they may be able to make improvements to existing, low-quality sources. It is important to evaluate:
- The availability and location of alternative sources.
- The quantity and quality of alternative water sources.
- Associated costs.
- Blend Source Water
Systems that have multiple sources may be able to mix these waters prior to distribution to lower contaminant concentrations. (Note: this activity may not be permitted in every state.) It is important to evaluate:
- The availability of other sources.
- The impact of blending on water quantity, quality, and flow rates.
- Additional measures (e.g., replacing pumps) needed to ensure compliance.
- Associated costs.
Restructuring may involve changes to the operational, managerial, or institutional structure of a water system, from informal arrangements (e.g., sharing equipment with another water system) to major changes (e.g., interconnection with another water system). It is important to evaluate:
- Available restructuring options.
- Which options ensure long-term compliance and financial stability.
- Associated costs.
- System Partnership Solutions to Improve Public Health Protection Volume I (PDF) (12 pp, 784K) and Volume II (PDF) (10 pp, 204K)
(VI: EPA 816-R-02-022, September 2002; VII: EPA 816-R-06-005, October 2006) Case studies of water systems that partnered to implement cost-effective, long-term solutions to public health and capacity challenges.
- Restructuring and Consolidation of Small Drinking Water Systems: A Compendium of State Authorities, Statutes, and Regulations (PDF) (61 pp, 1.2MB)
(EPA 816-B-07-001, October 2007) State-by-state overview of authorities on restructuring and consolidation.
Install Point-of-Use (POU) or Point-of-Entry (POE) Treatment
POU or POE devices can be a technically simpler treatment option for small systems. It is important to evaluate:
- Whether POU/POE devices can be used for compliance with drinking water standard(s) at issue.
- Customer willingness to participate.
- Potential treatment maintenance and residual disposal problems.
- Associated installation and maintenance costs.
- Point-of-Use or Point-of-Entry Treatment Options for Small Drinking Water Systems (PDF) (132 pp, 792K)
(EPA 815-R-06-010, April 2006) A one-stop resource on regulatory, compliance, cost, and installation issues, case studies of communities that have installed POU and POE devices, and more.
- Cost Evaluation of Point-of-Use and Point-of-Entry Treatment Units for Small Systems: Cost Estimating Tool and Users Guide
A companion tool to the Treatment Options Guide for modeling operations and maintenance (e.g., maintenance, monitoring, and public education) and capital costs (e.g., purchase, installation, and permitting).
- Install Centralized Treatment
For some small systems, centralized treatment may be the only option to comply with EPA regulations. It is important to evaluate:
- Which treatment can best address compliance problems.
- Implications for and availability of treatment residual disposal options.
- Operator skill level required to run the equipment.
- Associated installation and operation and maintenance costs.
- Residual handling and disposal costs.
- Small Systems Compliance Technology List for the Surface Water Treatment Rule
An evaluation of the performance and limitations of common filtration and disinfection technologies.
- Arsenic Virtual Trade Show
In-depth information on treatment technologies, compliance options, and identifying and choosing a treatment vendor.
- Removing Multiple Contaminants from Drinking Water: Issues to Consider (PDF) (poster 30 x 20 inches, 1 pg, 367K)
(EPA 816-H-07-004, December 2007) A detailed poster identifying treatment technologies that remove multiple contaminants, including information on contaminants removed, operational and waste disposal issues, and helpful tips.
- Variances and Exemptions
Some states may extend compliance deadlines for systems that are unable to install treatment by the required deadline or that are unable to meet a drinking water standard.
- Variances and Exemptions: A Quick Reference Guide (PDF) (4 pp, 112K)
(EPA 816-F-04-005, September 2004) An overview of the options for meeting an alternate maximum contaminant level (variance) or extending compliance deadlines (exemptions).
- State Capacity Development Programs
Information for small systems specific to your state, including compliance assistance and local training opportunities
- 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.
- Sustainable Infrastructure Initiative
Information on helping systems implement better management practices, water efficiency strategies, full-cost pricing, and watershed protection programs.
Information on organizations and programs that provide free or low-cost technical and financial assistance for small water systems.
Visit EPA's Drinking Water Academy for information on upcoming EPA trainings and to download materials from past trainings and workshops.