The Clean Water Blog

Water from a facuet: Photo credit:  nikkytok / Shutterstock

Protecting drinking water at the source, and at the tap

Protecting drinking water means focusing not only what comes out of the tap, but on protecting our drinking water sources in the first place. Today we got some good news on that front. Actions by Members of Congress and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today are a timely reminder of the connection between stopping pollution and safe drinking water. 

Led by Rep. Pallone of NJ, House Energy and Commerce Committee members introduced a bill to update the Safe Drinking Water Act that would increase oversight, investment and innovation to improve drinking water quality.  Despite high-profile drinking water disruptions including the crisis in Flint, Michigan, the chemical spill into the Elk River in West Virginia and increasing toxic algal blooms like the one in Toldeo, Ohio in 2014 we still don't always put drinking water first.

The proposed package of amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act is comprehensive. It  will authorize increased funding for critical programs, improve public health protection from lead and other contaminants and enhance source water protection efforts. This would be the first major update to our nation’s primary drinking water law in twenty years.

The bill draws from the work of U.S. Representatives from around the country including Reps. Brendan Boyle (D-PA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), Lois Capps (D-CA), Tony Cardenas (D-CA), Diana DeGette (D-CO), Marcia Fudge (D-OH), John Garamendi (D-CA), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH),  Dan Kildee (D-MI), Brenda Lawrence (D-MI), Jerry McNerney (D-CA), Bobby Rush (D-IL), Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), Jackie Speier (D-CA), and Peter Welch (D-VT).

Improving drinking water quality is not just about the Safe Drinking Water Act, which regulates contaminants in tap water provided by our nation’s water systems. We also need to protect the sources of drinking water – rivers, lakes, bays and groundwater - from pollution in the first place.  Sadly, the Clean Water Act and many other pollution-control laws often allow continued contamination of these sources – putting the burden on water systems to clean it up and consumers to foot the bill. That’s why an announcement from EPA on nutrient pollution today is so important.

EPA announced new efforts to reduce nutrient pollution, a largely unchecked source of water contamination, to address public health risk and harm to local economies.  Nutrient pollution (nitrogen and phosphorous ) from agricultural and other sources contributes to health risks from drinking water including toxic chemicals produced by Harmful Algal Blooms and nitrate. 

In a memorandum to the states released today, EPA Deputy Administrator for Water Joel Beauvais announced new programs and funding to support nutrient pollution reductions in the most-impacted watersheds, to partner with states and others to achieve specific pollution controls and to make progress on setting numeric reduction criteria.

All of this is happening with the backdrop of the Congressional debate over funding to help the people in Flint, Michigan, who continue to struggle with the repercussions of the drinking water crisis there. It’s a great day when drinking water is front and center and when we’re focusing on controlling upstream threats, increasing investment and addressing those suffering from extreme drinking water crisis like what has happened in Flint, Michigan. We should be putting drinking water first every day.