U.S. Congress pours resources into clean drinking water

U.S. Congress pours resources into clean drinking water

Boston — “Now, we have it” is the resounding sigh coming from drinking water officials in Massachusetts these days. In addition to pollution pre vention and good land use and management measures, they`re getting another means to control contamination: $28.732 million in federal funding for water treatment.

For fiscal year 1999, Congress has appropriated a total of $775 million to help states finance infrastructure improvements to their drinking water systems. The funding is made available through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) established by the Safe Drinking Water Act amendments passed in 1996.

Congress has been working to keep America`s lakes and rivers safe since the 1970s with the adoption of the Clean Water Act, which gave the Environmental Protection Agency the authority to set quality standards for contaminants in surface waters. Over the last three years, however, lawmakers have expanded their scope and started pouring resources into the protection of the nation`s drinking water supplies. DWSRF appropriations for fiscal years 1998 and 1997 were $725 million and $1.275 million, respectively.

“For the last 20 years, (government) has been focusing on making our rivers and streams fishable and swimmable, but there was an absence of any type of federal support for the treatment of ground water,” explains David Terry, program director for the Department of Environmental Protection`s drinking water program in Massachusetts.

Now, he says, these DWSRF funds can help states ensure that their drinking water systems meet public health standards.

According to Terry, Massachusetts will dedicate the majority of its funding to drinking water systems that are not compliant with the surface water treatment rule, which requires filtration of surface water sources such as reservoirs.

The regulation Terry refers to is part of a new set of microbial pathogen and disinfection byproduct rules mandated under the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act and which are currently in development.

According to the EPA`s Science Advisory Board, exposure to microbial contaminants — bacteria, viruses and such protozoa as Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium — is likely the most serious remaining health risk management challenge for drinking water suppliers. In 1993, Cryptosporidium reportedly infected 400,000 Milwaukee residents, with at least 50 deaths attributed to the disease. Over the past several years, outbreaks have also been reported in Nevada, Oregon and Georgia.

The EPA claims disinfectants must also be taken seriously as a health risk because of the large number of people who consume disinfected water — more than 200 million — and because many disinfectant byproducts have been proven to cause cancer and reproductive and developmental effects in lab animals.

These new rules, the agency contends, will strengthen existing standards, thereby enhancing the overall integrity of drinking water systems.

“The highest priority is protecting human health &#85 As part of [EPA`s] development of standards and regulations for contaminants, we will conduct health assessments and risk characterizations and develop regulatory support documents,” Bob Perciasepe, assistant administrator in the EPA`s Office of Water, wrote in a recent memo addressed to the employees of the National Water Program.

EPA`s strategic goal, he said, is by the year 2005 for 95 percent of the population served by community water systems to receive drinking water that meets all health-based standards.

And with grant money to spend, states are concentrating their efforts toward that end.

Bob Havelind, principal sanitary engineer at the Rhode Island Department of Health/Office of Drinking Water Quality, says his state plans to use its $7.463 million grant to help maintain or upgrade its 150 eligible water systems, as well as for source water protection activities and the creation of operator certification programs.

“In Rhode Island, [DWSR funds] are the first perpetual funding source made available on the drinking water side. It`s an excellent program,” he claims.


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