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How the SDWA Gave Us National Drinking Water Standards
Monday, March 15, 2021

We can trust that the water that comes from our tap is safe to drink, thanks to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). But did you know that this law wasn’t passed until 1974? What lead to the SDWA, and why did it take so long to enact proper drinking water standards?

Keep reading to learn the history of this act and how it protects our water sources.

The History of the Drinking Water Standards

In 1914, the United States Public Health Service (PHS) recognized that disease spreads through water and thereby enacted drinking water standards. These regulations were only mandatory for common carriers, like trains, that crossed state lines for commerce. Public water systems were not obligated to follow the PHS’s guidelines, though many communities chose to adopt them.

In 1925, the PHS set limits for bacteria, copper, arsenic, lead, and zinc levels. These standards were again revisited in 1942 and 1946 to extend the scope of the rules. In 1962, regulations became even stricter, adding more limits; but, this wasn’t enough.

The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974

Prior to the SDWA, some regulations and water filtrations efforts were already in place. Scientists could detect contaminants in water that could harm public health, like sewage bacteria, arsenic, radon, human-made chemicals, and more. Large-scale outbreaks of waterborne diseases like cholera, dysentery, and typhoid fever dropped when proper water filtration standards became national.

The SDWA set the following provisions:

  • Maximum contaminant levels in drinking water are set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • States are responsible for public water systems and must meet criteria described by the EPA
  • States are required to submit monitoring reports, water contamination levels, and other compliance data of public drinking water sources annually

While it was a good start, the 1974 bill went under a few amendments.

1986 Amendment

In 1986, new standards limited maximum contaminant levels, expanding the definition of public water systems and adding new groups of contaminants to monitor. It also banned the use of lead plumbing in construction.

Public water systems were to publish reports so community members could see how their water met standards.

1996 Amendment

The amendments to the SDWA in 1996 focused on mitigating major health risks, increasing flexibility of regulations, authorize funding, and increased focus on preventing pollution. Consumer awareness was also a focus of this revision.

2016 Amendment

In 2016, the act was revisited. This required the EPA to revise standards for levels of substances like lead and copper. Additional grants and funding programs extended to schools and other communities.

This built the framework for programs like The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation (WIIN) Act.

Is Your Water Safe?

The EPA’s drinking water standards under the SDWA monitor and limit around 90 potential contaminants. Any buildings using a public water system are notified by the municipality or health department about drinking water contamination. These notices are often in the form of “boil water advisories.”

Though, not all water is monitored this way. The EPA or government does not oversee well-water sources. Additionally, impure water can come from plumbing.

If you want to take water monitoring into your own hands, we have just what you need to ensure safe water quality and peace of mind. Contact us to learn about our water treatment and monitoring services.