Advancements in water treatment have evolved in the last number of years, ensuring clean and safe drinking water for communities. To allow for this, the EPA has set legal limits on many contaminants for the safety of human health. In fact, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), first introduced in 1974 and reauthorized in 1996, allows states to set and enforce their own drinking water standards – if they set their standards as a minimum of EPA’s national standards. Over the years, amendments have been made to the act. I’m sure you know about water regulations set forth by the EPA, but it doesn’t hurt to have a refresher to ensure you’re in compliance.

Read today’s blog about the variety of drinking water regulations and learn if you’re in compliance.

Drinking Water Regulations by Contaminant Types

History tells a story about dangerous contaminants in drinking water that have led to disease and illness. From legionella to e-coli and more, microorganisms in water wreak havoc on human, wild, and aquatic life. We’ve come a long way since the times when drinking water had to be boiled to be safe or when diseases ran rampant in communities because of unclean water. Now with water treatment plants mostly worldwide, facilities filter out the bad bugs and introduce the good ones. This enables safe and clean drinking water for everyone.

In the last several decades, the EPA narrowed down the major players in disease-inducing chemicals and microorganisms and placed restrictions on their presence in water. Below are several contaminant types and their regulations.

Microbial contaminants

New drinking water regulations for microbes in water include those dealing with aircraft, ground water, disinfectant and disinfectant byproducts, surface water, and total coliform. Regarding aircraft, in 2004, the EPA discovered all aircraft PWSs (Primary Water Service) were non-compliant with the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs). Since then, aircraft is under scrutiny to comply with the EPA, in conjunction with the FDA and the FAA to ensure safe drinking water for passengers and crew.


  • The Ground Water Rule or GWR improves drinking water quality and provides protection from disease-causing microorganisms in the water. Fecal contamination is a concern in ground water sources, thus why the EPA established the GWR rule in 2006. For more information on the GWR rule, here is a quick reference.
  • Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfectants Byproducts Rules reduces drinking water exposure to disinfection byproducts and applies to non-transient non-community systems (those serving fewer than 10,000 people that add a disinfectant to the drinking water during any part of the treatment process) and community water systems.
  • Stage 2 DBPR tightens compliance monitoring requirements which in turn strengthens public health protection. These requirements includes Trihalomethane’s (TTHM) and Haloacetic acids (HAA5). This rule focuses on public water systems, such as swimming pools, lakes, rivers, reservoirs, and ground water aquifers.
  • The Surface Water Treatment Rules help reduce water-borne illness and disease, specifically but not limited to Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, and Legionella – all of which can result in severe health problems. In 1998, the SWTR rule applied to all public water systems using surface water sources or water sources under the direct influence of surface water. This meant that most water systems required filters and disinfectants. It also established maximum contaminant levels for viruses, bacteria, and Giardia lamblia. It requires sanitary surveys and systems to calculate levels of microbial inactivation, thus addressing risks of disinfection byproducts. In 2001, new rules were set for Filter Backwash Recycling Rule. Since then, the EPA has enhanced the SWTR rule, with the latest regulations stemming from 2006.
  • Revised Total Coliform Rule stated that beginning in 2016, ALL public water systems, except aircraft PWSs, must comply with the RTCR. This rule applies to a group of related bacteria that typically isn’t harmful to humans. Total coliforms allow for discovery of other pathogens in drinking water, therefore is quite useful in determining the adequacy or water treatment and distribution system integrity.

Chemical contaminants

For many years, arsenic had a history of causing many health issues. In 2001, the EPA set a standard of 10 ppm, which replaced the old 50 ppm standard. This made a huge impact on the health and well-being of individuals, as well as for wildlife and aquatic life. It also reduced erosion in pipes and other infrastructure.

  • Lead and copper have long since caused many issues with children. From lead paint to lead in water, illnesses increased, and this was just 40 years ago. In 1991, the EPA set a rule, commonly known as the Lead and Copper Rule, or LCR, that included lead concentrations not exceeding 15 ppm for lead and 1.3 ppm for copper. If tap water had above these limits, they were required to undertake action, which meant informing the public about the levels and and steps they could take to protect their health while ensuring control to minimize dangers.
  • Radionuclides also underwent updated regulations back in 2000’ which had previously been in effect since 1977. The rule included setting new monitoring requirements for community water systems or CWS, which ensured customers received water meeting maximum contaminant levels for radionuclides in water. Uranium was also amended from the 1986 regulations. Now, water systems should not exceed a combined radium 226/228 of 5 pCi/L; a gross alpha standard for all alphas of 15 pCi/L (not including radon and uranium); a combined standard of 4 mrem/year for beta emitters. The new MCL for uranium is 30 µg/L.

TOC (Total Organic Carbon) has no adverse health effects, still, it provides a medium for the formation of DBPs or disinfection byproducts; therefore, the EPA doesn’t have a set standard, since it varies in different water systems. The best bet is to reduce and limit the TOC in water in the first place. This allows fewer compounds to combine with chlorine during the purification process. Check out this video below to learn more about the causes of DBP’s.

Safe Drinking Water Act Penalties

To drive home the point of how important it is to stay compliant of the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act, let’s shed some light on the penalties a water treatment facility can incur if they don’t remain in compliance. As of Jan 2009, penalties include up to $32,500 per DAY, per violation – a stiff penalty you would agree.

Before a penalty order becomes final, however, the EPA Administrator must provide the federal entity with notice and an opportunity of a formal hearing on the record in accordance with the Administrative Procedures Act. If a subject violates an order issued, they could incur a fee of $16,500 for each day they fail to comply. A criminal enforcement can also include sanctions being brought against an individual employee for violations of the SDWA, which include fines and penalties.

State and tribal enforcement of public water systems and underground injection control is also under the jurisdiction of the federal government and can result in heavy fines and penalties if violations occur.

A citizen can file a civil action against any federal agency who they feel has violated the law.


Contact ATS Innova to Aid in Compliance

If you find you’re not in compliance with these drinking water regulations, we can help. All of our products are designed to provide the best water treatment available while staying compliant with the EPA. Our water experts know their stuff and is here to answer any question or address any concern with your water treatment facility’s challenges. We’d love to hear from you, so please give us a call at 855.215.4600. Our mission is improving life, one drop at a time, as we strive towards being stewards of humanity.

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