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Water: Small Systems and Capacity Development

State Guidance

States can use capacity development to efficiently target the technical, financial and managerial needs of many small systems and then directly address those needs through specific activities that help systems enter and remain in compliance. EPA developed the following reference materials to support the implementation of state capacity development programs. These documents provide more information on the purpose and importance of capacity development, particularly for small water systems, and the ways in which states and other organizations can help build small system capacity.

You will need Adobe Reader to view some of the files on this page. See EPA's PDF page to learn more.

Capacity Development Program Implementation

These materials provide core guidance for building state programs and offer a national vision for the future of capacity development.

  • National Characteristics of Drinking Water Systems Serving 10,000 or Fewer People (PDF) (104 pp, 6MB)
    (EPA 816-R-10-022, July 2011) This report summarizes the characteristics of small drinking water systems serving 10,000 or fewer people and how these characteristics may impact their short- and long- term sustainability. The report also provides information on ownership, operation, financial stability, infrastructure needs, and compliance with National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs).
  • National Capacity Development Strategic Plan (PDF) (32 pp, 1MB)
    (EPA 816-K-07-003, January 2008) This plan provides a roadmap identifying how EPA's National Capacity Development Program will support the Office of Water's strategic goal to improve PWS performance.
  • Building Water System Capacity: A Guide for Tribal Administrators (PDF) (6 pp, 3MB)
    (EPA 816-K-01-006, July 2001) A handbook on understanding the importance of capacity development for tribal water systems. Provides a basic overview of capacity development and the merits of increasing small tribal systems' technical, managerial, and financial capabilities. Includes contact information for EPA Regions and other assistance providers serving the needs of tribal water systems.

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Helpful Information for State Programs

These documents offer additional guidance, suggestions and considerations for effective implementation of state programs.

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History of the Capacity Development Program

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments of 1996 became law on August 6, 1996. Capacity development under the 1996 Amendments has three major components outlined in the table below:

Capacity Development and the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act
Section Description
Section 1420(a) New Systems Under penalty of Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) withholding, States must have a program established to "ensure that all new community water systems and nontransient, noncommunity water systems commencing operations after October 1, 1999 demonstrate technical, managerial, and financial capacity with respect to each national primary drinking water regulation in effect, or likely to be in effect, on the date of commencement of operations."
Section 1420(c) State Capacity Development Strategies Under penalty of DWSRF withholding, the State must develop and implement a "strategy to assist public water systems in acquiring and maintaining technical, managerial, and financial capacity."
Section 1452(a)(3) Assessment of Capacity
  • States may not provide DWSRF loan assistance to systems which lack the technical, managerial, and financial capability to ensure compliance; or
  • if the system is in significant noncompliance with any drinking water standard or variance.
However, States may provide assistance if
  • the use of such assistance will ensure compliance; and
  • the system has agreed to make the necessary changes in operation to ensure that it has the technical, managerial, and financial capacity to comply over the long term.

  • Visit EPA's 1996 SDWA Amendments page for background information and the full text and summaries of the Amendments, which brought small systems and capacity development into focus.

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