Skip to main content
Workforce LibreTexts

1.3: Regulations

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)

    Student Learning Outcomes

    After reading this chapter, you should be able to:

    • Differentiate between the primary sources of drinking water contamination
    • Evaluate the water quality sampling requirements within a distribution system
    • Summarize the main federal and state water quality regulatory citations
    • Explain the role the American Waterworks association plays in terms of water quality standards

    Is My Water Safe to Drink?

    One of the biggest questions and concerns people have is whether or not their tap water is safe to drink. However, sometimes there is confusion between the taste, odor, and appearance of the water and the actual “safety” of the water. Many times these two things are not one and the same. Tap water can be discolored, smell strange, and have an odd taste, but from a health and safety standpoint, the water might be perfectly fine. Explaining this to a customer can be a very challenging task. Conversely, a glass of water might be crystal clear and have no apparent taste or odor and could be potentially unsafe (non-potable) for human consumption.

    So, how does a water quality professional handle variability in the quality of drinking water? There are several things (tools in a toolbox) water treatment and distribution operators use to make sure the water they are providing to millions of people is safe and to a certain extent “pleasant” to drink. The word pleasant is placed in quotes because things like taste, odor, and color can be very subjective characteristics in terms of drinking water quality.

    The tools water utility professionals use can be explained in four main categories; regulations, treatment, testing, and maintenance. Each one of these will be explained throughout this chapter, but below is a concise explanation of each one.

    • Regulations – Drinking water quality regulations might be the number one component to ensure a safe drinking water supply is being provided to water utility customers. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is tasked with providing minimum drinking water standards for water utilities throughout the United States to adhere to. These drinking water regulations are found in the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). Among other things, the SDWA sets minimum levels for a variety of contaminants in drinking water.
    • Treatment – Within the SDWA, there are rules and regulations regarding the treatment requirements at drinking water treatment plants. Along with the minimum contaminant levels, there are various treatment technologies for drinking water treatment plants.
    • Testing – The SDWA also spells out testing requirements for water utilities at treatment plants, at the various sources of supply, and within distribution systems. Additional sampling is also common for a variety of other reasons not spelled out in the regulations. Collecting and analyzing water quality samples is not only a regulatory requirement, it is used by treatment and distribution operators for monitoring and predicting water quality.
    • Maintenance – Maintenance (especially within distribution systems) goes a long way with improving and maintaining good water quality. Some of the more common distribution maintenance tasks associated with improving and maintaining good water quality are flushing of water mains and cycling the level of water in storage tanks.

    Providing and maintaining a safe supply of drinking water to customers is a primary responsibility of all water utilities. This is achieved through the items discussed above as well as a collaborative and coordinated effort between water utility staff, regulators, and the public receiving this vital resource.

    In addition to the regulatory requirements, the American Water Association (AWWA) provides a variety of standards and guidance to water utilities. AWWA is an international, nonprofit, scientific, and educational organization. It was established in 1881 and is the largest Association of water supply professionals in the world. The recent State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water’s (DDW) waterworks standards were revised in 2008 and most were based on AWWA recommendations and standards.

    Sources of Contamination

    There are a number of naturally occurring and manmade contaminants, which can be found in water supplies. These contaminants can be broken down into four (4) main categories; physical, biological, chemical, and radiological. Because the sources of drinking water supply vary from region to region, the contaminants present in one part of the world are not necessarily found in other parts of the world. For example, a constituent, such as fluoride, is temperature-dependent and therefore is not typically found in groundwater supplies in cooler regions but may be found in warmer climate regions.

    Physical Contamination

    Most physical contaminants do not pose a direct health effect. They primarily impact the appearance of drinking water. Physical contamination is more commonly found in surface water supplies and often results from soil erosion. Sediments and organic material can wash off surrounding hillsides along lakes, rivers, and streams. These contaminants mostly affect the aesthetic quality of drinking water, such as taste, odor, and color. However, these types of contaminants can also impede the drinking water treatment process and can act as a barrier, protecting biological contaminants.

    Biological Contamination

    One of the most common contaminants water utilities collect samples and analyze are part of the biological class of contaminants. While only a few bacteriological organisms are pathogenic, this entire class of organisms can wreak havoc on a water system. From a public health standpoint, we are mainly concerned with the bacteriological and viral disease-causing (pathogenic) organisms. Since it can be difficult and costly to try and analyze all the different strands of viruses and bacterial organisms, which might find their way into a water system, an “indicator” organism is preferred. In drinking water supplies and systems, the indicator of choice is the total coliform group.

    Pathogenic organisms include those derived from fecal contamination and viruses, which typically use bacteria as a host for replication. These disease-causing organisms that can be found in drinking water include, but are not limited to Escherichia coli (E. coli) and various strains of Vibrio and Enterococcus, various enteroviruses, and parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Giardia. Most of these organisms find their way into a drinking water system through some type of contamination with fecal matter. Perhaps an animal feed lot is upstream from a water supply or an underground sewer collection system is leaking next to a drinking water underground well. Therefore, the main source for these contaminants is human or animal feces.

    Prokaryote cell
    Figure \(\PageIndex{1}\): Image by Ali Zifan is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

    All of these potential contaminants are routinely monitored through a regulation called the Total Coliform Rule (TCR). In 2013 and 2014, revisions to the 1989 TCR were implemented in order to improve public health. The TCR is now referred to as the Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR). Total coliforms are a group of related bacteria, which are (with few exceptions) not harmful to humans. Therefore, the USEPA has identified this group of organisms to represent an indicator for a variety of bacteria, viruses, and parasites which are known pathogens and can cause health problems in humans if they are ingested.

    Revised Total Coliform Rule

    The USEPA published the Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR) in the Federal Register on February 13, 2013 (78 FR 10269) and minor corrections on February 26, 2014 (79 FR 10665). Promulgation of the RTCR began on April 1, 2016.

    Most of the major provisions of the TCR stay in place and include:

    • Collecting total coliform (TC) samples at representative locations throughout the distribution system.
    • Samples must be collected at regular intervals.
    • Numbers of samples collected are based on the size of the population the water utility serves.
    • Repeat sampling is required for positive results, which include analysis of E. coli.

    Details of the TCR can be found in the USEPA’s Total Coliform Rule: A Quick Reference Guide.

    The main changes to the RTCR include the following:

    • Setting a maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) and maximum contaminant level (MCL) for E. coli.
    • Setting a TC treatment technique (TT).
    • Requirements for assessments and corrective actions.
    • Specific language in the annual Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR) for violations.

    Details of the RTCR can be found in the USEPA’s Revised Total Coliform Rule: A Quick Reference Guide.

    There are a number of different provisions within each rule and depending on the size of the utility, there are different requirements. In general, every TC positive sample must be followed up with analysis of E. coli and repeat samples are also required. At least three (3) repeat samples are required for every TC positive sample. The repeat samples must be collected within 24 hours of learning about the positive TC result. The repeat samples must be collected from the same sample location and within five (5) service connections upstream and downstream of the original sample location. There are additional requirements, but more detail is beyond the scope of this text.

    Chemical Contamination

    There are many different chemicals used in the world for a variety of different things. For example, arsenic is used to preserve wood and prevent rotting and chromium is used in chrome plating processes. While chemicals are commonly used in various manmade processes, they are also found naturally occurring in the environment. Regardless of the source of contamination (naturally occurring or manmade), if they pose a threat to public health they also need to be regulated if they are found in drinking water supplies. Within this group of contaminants, there are two main categories; inorganic and organic. The main difference between these two categories is the absence of carbon with inorganic chemicals and the presence of carbon with organic chemicals. Below is a short list of common contaminants found in drinking water supplies within both categories.

    • Common Inorganic Chemicals – While most of these inorganic chemicals can be found naturally occurring in water supplies, with the exception of arsenic, most are the result of contamination from human activities.
      • Arsenic (As) – As previously mentioned, one of the main uses of arsenic is preserving wood. Arsenic is also commonly found naturally in groundwater supplies, especially in the southwest.
      • Nitrate (NO3) – While nitrate can be found naturally occurring, these levels are relatively harmless. The primary sources of nitrate in drinking water are from fertilizers and contamination from sewage.
      • Chromium (Cr) – Chromium is used in plating processes and can also be found naturally in the environment. One of the unique things about chromium is it is found in two common oxidative states, Cr III and Cr VI.
      • Lead – Lead is most commonly found in plumbing systems, although the allowable levels are being reduced because of the significant health effects. The main reason lead was used in plumbing supplies is because of its malleability.
      • Copper – Copper is also most commonly found in plumbing supplies
    • Common Organic Chemicals – The organic chemicals found in drinking water supplies are referred to as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and synthetic organic compounds (SOCs). While they can be found naturally occurring, the majority of the VOCs and SOCs found in drinking water supplies are from manmade chemicals.
      • Trichloroethylene (TCE) – TCE is a common solvent used as a degreaser
      • Tetrachloroethylene (PCE) – PCE is a common solvent used in dry cleaning
      • Methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) – A gasoline additive to help improve air quality

    Drinking Water Standards

    In order to make sure contaminants are limited or kept at levels below those which would pose health effects to consumers, there are a number of regulatory standards in the SDWA. In addition to the federal SDWA, some states have their own set of standards water utilities must adhere to. In California under Title of the California Code of Regulations, there is the California Safe Drinking Water Act (CSDWA). The difference between federal and state drinking water regulations is the ability of state regulations to be more stringent than federal regulations. This means that the CSDWA can have regulatory levels for contaminants set at a lower level than the federal SDWA. They cannot be set higher. Within the SDWA, contaminants are separated into two main categories, primary drinking water standards and secondary drinking water standards. Primary standards are for those chemicals which pose a public health threat. Secondary standards are for contaminants, which have aesthetic effects on the water supply.

    The USEPA goes through an extensive process in order to determine if a contaminant needs to be regulated under the SDWA. There are three (3) main criteria the USEPA considers in order to make a regulatory determination. They determine whether or not the contaminant meets the following criteria:

    • The contaminant may have an adverse effect on the health of persons
    • The contaminant is known to occur or there is a substantial likelihood the contaminant will occur in public water systems with a frequency and at levels of public health concern
    • In the sole judgment of the Administrator, regulation of the contaminant presents a meaningful opportunity for health risk reductions for persons served by public water systems

    Once the USEPA identifies whether or not a contaminant needs to be regulated, further evaluation is required to determine the technical and economical feasibility of regulating the contaminant. During this process, a non-enforceable level is usually established. This non-enforceable level is referred to as a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG). MCLGs are set at levels which no known or anticipated adverse health effect would occur. The next step is to develop an enforceable standard referred to as a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL). MCLs are set as close to the MCLG as is feasible. The SDWA defines “feasible” as the level that may be achieved with the use of the best available technology or treatment techniques the USEPA finds available (under field conditions and not solely under laboratory conditions), taking cost into consideration. The USEPA can establish a regulatory treatment technique when there is no reliable method that is economically and technically feasible to measure a contaminant.

    In addition to MCLs and MCLGs, there are other acronyms related to drinking water quality regulations. These include the following:

    • PHG – Public Health Goals are similar to MCLGs. They are California non-enforceable standards where an MCL does not exist.
    • AL – Action Levels are set for certain contaminants where an MCL does not exist and some type of response (action) is required by the water utility if an AL is exceeded
    • DLR – Laboratories are tasked with analyzing contaminants. As laboratory techniques improve, these levels become smaller (lower) over time. The Detection Limit for Reporting is set at a level laboratories can accurately reproduce with the current method of analysis.

    The level of a contaminant is expressed using a ratio of units. The most common units used to express levels of contaminants are the following:

    • Milligram per liter (mg/L)
    • Microgram per liter (ug/L)
    • Nanogram per liter (ng/L)

    The above examples express the weight of the contaminant in a liter of water. Therefore, a level of 10 mg/L means that for every liter of water there are 10 mg of a substance. Sometimes, alternative units of measure are used. These alternatives are the following:

    • Parts per million (ppm) = mg/L
    • Parts per billion (ppb) = ug/L
    • Parts per trillion (ppt) = ng/L

    These units mean for every part of a contaminant there are a million, billion, or trillion parts of water. For example, a level of 10 ppm (same as 10 mg/L) means that for every million parts of water, there are 10 parts of the substance.

    While it is not required for water distribution operators to memorize drinking water quality standards (MCLs), it is important for them and especially the water quality professionals to have a general understanding of the main contaminants within their water supply. In addition, it is important for water quality professionals such as water quality technicians, specialists, supervisors, and managers to understand the health effects associated with common contaminants. Some of the more commonly found primary contaminants in drinking include the following:


    Nitrate – MCL = 45 mg/L as NO3 or 10 mg/L as N – The reason there are two MCLs for nitrate is because the value can be expressed as actual amount of nitrate (NO3) or expressed as the total amount of nitrogen (N).

    Nitrogen from the periodic table
    Figure \(\PageIndex{2}\): Image by OpenStax is licensed under CC BY 4.0 (image modified by COC OER)
    • Source – The primary source of nitrate in drinking water is from fertilizers. This is especially present in areas where there is or was agriculture present. Nitrate can also occur as a result of contamination from animal or human sewage waste.
    • Health Effects – The primary health effect associated with elevated levels of nitrate in drinking water is something referred to as “blue baby syndrome”. The medical diagnosis is methemoglobinemia. It is a condition, which effects the body’s ability to release oxygen to tissues. Infants six (6) months old and younger are particularly susceptible.


    Arsenic – MCL = 10 ug/L

    Arsenic from the periodic table
    Figure \(\PageIndex{3}\): Image by OpenStax is licensed under CC BY 4.0 (image modified by COC OER)
    • Source – Arsenic is found naturally in certain geologic formations and is also used in some industries. One common use is a preservative for wood products.
    • Health Effects – Studies have linked long-term exposure to arsenic in drinking water to cancer of the bladder, lungs, skin, kidney, nasal passages, liver, and prostate. Non-cancer effects of ingesting arsenic include cardiovascular, pulmonary, immunological, neurological, and endocrine effects.

    Radiological Compounds

    There are several types of radiological compounds found in drinking water supplies and include; uranium, strontium, total alpha, and total beta.

    • Source – The primary source of radiological compounds in drinking water is naturally occurring geologic formations. Accidental or intentional releases from human activities is a rare occurrence.
    • Health Effects – Elevated levels of radiological compounds in drinking water can increase the risk of kidney damage.

    Lead and Copper

    Lead and Copper – AL = 15 ug/L for Lead (Pb) and 1,300 ug/L for Copper (Cu) – Lead and copper contamination does not typically occur in the source water or even in the distribution system of drinking water systems. The primary source of lead and copper contamination occurs in internal plumbing systems. Lead and copper are commonly used in the manufacturing of plumbing supplies and can leach out into drinking water. Therefore in 1991, the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) was passed. The LCR requires water utilities to collect samples for lead and copper within customer homes. While lead and copper is not as common within distribution systems, it is an issue in older communities where lead service laterals and other materials were commonly used. The most recent discovery of lead contamination within a distribution system was in 2014 in Flint, Michigan. As a result, the LCR is going through a number of different revisions.

    • Health Effects – The primary effects of copper in drinking water are related to gastrointestinal issues. However, the effects of lead in drinking water are far worse and include damage to the brain, red blood cells, and kidney.

    As previously mentioned, secondary drinking water contaminants are not health related. The problems associated with secondary contaminants can be grouped into three categories:

    • Aesthetic effects – undesirable tastes or odors
    • Cosmetics effects – effects which do not damage the body but are still undesirable
    • Technical effects – damage to water equipment or reduced effectiveness of treatment for other contaminants

    The periodic table lists the various chemical substances that can be found in water supplies. Below is an image of the periodic table with many of the ions mentioned below circled for reference.

    The periodic table
    Figure \(\PageIndex{4}\): Image by Saylor Academy is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 (image modified by COC OER)

    Contaminants related to color, odor and taste (aesthetic) include, Chloride (Cl), Copper (Cu), Foaming Agents, Iron (Fe), pH, Sulfate (SO4), Manganese (Mn), Total Dissolved Solids (TDS), and Zinc (Zn).

    Contaminants related to cosmetic effects include, Silver (Ag) and Fluoride (F).

    Contaminants related to technical effects include, Chloride, Copper, Corrosivity, Iron, Manganese, pH, and Total Dissolved Solids.

    Some of the chemical contaminants listed above are compounds or in the case of TDS, are a combination of ions. Sulfate for example is a sulfur ion combined with four (4) oxygen atoms. TDS represents a number of different constituents which include but are not limited to calcium, magnesium, sulfate, chloride, as well as others.


    One of the most critical processes in the area of water quality is the ability to control the growth and regrowth of pathogenic organisms throughout the distribution system. This process is commonly handled through disinfection. By definition, disinfection is the process of cleaning something, especially with a chemical, in order to destroy bacteria. Disinfection should not be confused with other processes such as sanitation or sterilization. Sanitation is the process to make something clean, but it doesn’t necessarily target disease causing organisms and sterilization is the process of ridding something of all bacteria. The goal of drinking water disinfection is to destroy pathogenic organisms in order to make it safe for human consumption. This process is commonly achieved through the use of chlorine and chlorine related compounds or other oxidants.

    Physical Disinfectants

    While not common, microorganisms can be inactivated in water supplies through physical means. These include, but are not limited to ultraviolent rays, heat, and ultra-sonic waves. While all of these are physical means of inactivating harmful organisms, they lack something chlorine and chlorine related compounds provide. These processes are good at the time of use but provide no long term protection from regrowth.

    Non-chlorine Disinfectants

    Chemicals such as iodine, bromine, various bases (alkaline chemicals), and ozone are good oxidizing agents, but each one has limitations when it comes to drinking water disinfection. Iodine has been used for years to disinfect cuts and skin abrasions and in low doses it can be used to disinfect drinking water. However, because of the high costs and potential physiological effects on pregnant women, it is not used in drinking water. Bromine is commonly used in swimming pools and spas, but because of safety related issues with handling the chemical it is not used in drinking water. An example of a base that can be used as a disinfectant is sodium hydroxide. It is also commonly used to disinfect cuts and skin abrasions, but it leaves a bitter taste if it is ingested and is not suitable for drinking water disinfection. Ozone is a great disinfectant for drinking water under certain instances. It is primarily used in the drinking water treatment process to control taste and odor and to reduce the amount of total organic carbon prior to treatment. The main problem with ozone is it does not leave a residual, is difficult to store, and is expensive.

    Chlorine and Chlorine Related Compounds

    Chlorine has been used in the United States to disinfect drinking water for over 100 years. It does a great job at inactivating pathogenic organisms and leaves a residual preventing regrowth throughout the distribution system. In its natural state, chlorine is a gas with a greenish-yellow color. There are other chlorine related compounds such as calcium hypochlorite (solid) and sodium hypochlorite (liquid) commonly used to disinfect drinking water. In addition to chlorine and these related compounds, chlorine is often combined with ammonia to create chloramine. Chloramine is also an efficient disinfectant. One of the major drawbacks to using chlorine as a disinfectant is the potential creation of disinfection by-products such as total tri-halomethanes and halo-acetic acids

    Distribution System Water Quality

    As water makes its way through the distribution system, distribution operators need to be able to maintain the quality of the water. Water quality can degrade within a distribution system for a number of reasons, including but not limited to age of water, temperature of water, lack of a disinfectant residual, pH, various reducing agents, and microorganisms. Maintaining a disinfectant residual within distribution systems is an important responsibility for distribution operators. Sampling, monitoring, and various maintenance activities can help with maintaining a disinfectant residual.

    Distribution Sampling

    The SDWA states how many and where water quality samples need to be collected. In addition, state regulators such as DDW may also require additional sampling based on vulnerabilities and other water quality related issues.

    All sources of supply must be sampled routinely for bacteriological, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals, and radiological contaminants. Each group of contaminants and some individual contaminants have different sampling intervals and procedures. For example, VOCs are required to be sampled at each source annually unless there is a positive detection, in which case they need to be sampled quarterly.

    Sampling within the distribution system is also required. However, there are far fewer constituents, which need to be sampled in distributions systems. The main contaminants which are required to be sampled for in distribution systems are bacteriological as part of the TCR and disinfection by-products. If you think about this, it makes sense. If you sample source water for VOCs for example, you would not need to sample for VOCs again in the distribution system. The reason for this is because VOCs do not develop in the distribution system. In contrast, in the absence of a disinfectant residual, bacteria can regrow in a distribution system and disinfection by-products may form in a distribution system under certain conditions.

    As part of the TCR, water utilities prepare sample siting plans. These plans identify the number of customers the utility serves, which in turn determines how many samples must be collected for total coliform bacteria. The sample locations and sampling frequency are also identified in these plans. Larger utilities can be required to sample dozens of locations on a weekly basis for total coliform bacteria as part of the TCR, while smaller utilities may just have to sample a few locations a month. At each location the disinfectant residual is also analyzed. This data can help determine if there is the potential for a problem within the distribution system. Let’s take a look at a hypothetical example. Suppose ten (10) locations per week are being sampled for total coliform bacteria and a chlorine disinfectant residual. Over three weeks, all the total coliform results come back negative (absent of total coliform bacteria), but the sampler has noticed a downward trend in the chlorine residual level at one of the sample locations. This sort of information can indicate a potential problem and maybe the next total coliform sample at this site will come back positive. This scenario doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong, but the sampler at least has data, which can be presented to other operators and may trigger some type of maintenance.

    Distribution System Maintenance

    Maintaining an efficient distribution system can help maintain good water quality. Water entering a distribution system from a source is routinely disinfected with a chemical such as chlorine. While the water travels through the distribution system the disinfectant will do its job by inactivating pathogenic organisms. As this occurs, the amount of chlorine in the system (residual) will reduce. The further the water travels, the lower the residual level. The water also becomes older as it travels through the distribution system and the water can become stagnant, resulting in discoloration, odors, and low chlorine residuals. One way to help keep a disinfectant level at acceptable levels is to help move the water through the system by flushing dead ends and areas furthest away from sources. By flushing and helping to move water through the distribution system, the water and with it the disinfectant residual travels faster through the distribution system and the water does not become stagnant

    Fire hydrant flushing rusty water
    Figure \(\PageIndex{5}\): Image by Daniel Case is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

    Sometimes, residuals drop very rapidly or cannot be maintained within a distribution system. This typically occurs when the initial dose of the disinfectant is not high enough at the source water, the water stays in the distribution system too long because of low use, or there is some other problem within the distribution system. When this occurs, distribution operators may choose to add a disinfectant in water storage tanks. Since disinfectants are added at the sources of supply they are typically found at higher levels in the distribution system around these sources. Storage tanks are commonly placed on the outer edges of distribution systems and if water demands (usage) are low, disinfectant residuals can drop below acceptable levels. This is when distribution operators can add disinfectants, such as calcium hypochlorite granules or liquid sodium hypochlorite to storage tanks. This will help improve disinfectant residuals within the tank and then in the distribution system as water is taken out of the tanks during times of usage.

    Airman Jeremiah Cottinghan, 2nd Civil Engineer Squadron Water and Fuel Systems Maintenance, flushes a hydrant on Barksdale Air Force Base, La., Sept. 26, 2014. Flushing the system helps prevent corrosion caused by extended exposure to the elements which makes the hydrants ineffective. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Mozer O. Da Cunha)
    Figure \(\PageIndex{6}\): Image by Barksdale Air Force Base is in the public domain

    Water Quality Violations

    When a water utility does not comply with drinking water quality regulations a violation occurs. Since many states (including California) have their own set of regulations, the states are the primacy agency for enforcing drinking water quality regulations. This means the enforcement comes from the state instead of the USEPA. However, since some regulations are specifically promulgated by the USEPA, they would be the primacy agency for those regulations.

    Included in the SDWA is something referred to as the Public Notification Rule (PN). This rule ensures consumers will know if there is a problem with their drinking water. These notices are intended to alert customers if there is a risk to public health. Customers are notified when:

    • The water does not meet drinking water standards;
    • If the system fails to test its water;
    • If the system has been granted a variance (use of less costly technology); or
    • If the system has been granted an exemption (more time to comply with a new regulation).

    If a water utility cannot meet a drinking water standard, that is they exceed an MCL for a contaminant, in addition to notifying their customers, several things are commonly triggered:

    • Resampling the water must occur. Depending on the contaminant, several resamples may be required.
    • If these results confirm an MCL has been exceeded, then the source is usually taken out of service. There are some exceptions. Depending on the health effect, the primacy agency may allow the source to be blended in order to bring the level of the contaminant below the MCL.
    • Depending on the health effect of the contaminant, the utility may be required to notify the public immediately. Other times if the health risk is minimal, the utility would be required to notify their customers in an annual consumer confidence report.
    • Depending on the level and the health effect of the contaminant, the utility may be required to install some form of treatment in order to remove or lower the level of the contaminant

    With some contaminants where a positive result occurs, but the level is below an MCL, additional monitoring is sometimes required. For example, nitrate has one of the more complex additional sampling requirements.

    Woman taking a sample of water for testing
    Figure \(\PageIndex{7}\): Image by Shaw Air Force Base is in the public domain

    Nitrate Sampling Requirements

    The SDWA states that nitrate must be sampled annually at each source entering the distribution system. If the result is more than half the MCL (>22.5 mg/L as NO3 or >5 mg/L as N) then quarterly sampling is required. Quarterly must continue until four (4) consecutive quarters yield results less than half the MCL.

    Consumer Confidence Report (CCR)

    The CCR is an annual report sent to all customers receiving water from a utility. This report provides information on the sources of supply, updates on new or emerging water quality regulations, health effects from contaminants found in their drinking water, levels for all contaminants found in the drinking water supply, and any violations which may have occurred. This CCR is very helpful in communicating to the public the safety of their water supply. The information within the report is from the prior calendar year and must be sent to all customers by July 1 of the following year. The report also must be provided in each language spoken within the utility service area if the population speaking that language is greater than ten (10%) percent of the total population.

    Example of a CCR Report
    Figure \(\PageIndex{8}\): Sample CCR – Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash (modified by COC OER)
    Example of a CCR Report
    Figure \(\PageIndex{9}\): Sample CCR – Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash (modified by COC OER)

    Sample Questions

    1. CCR stands for ___________ and is provided to ___________.
      1. Consumer Confidence Regulations/all water utilities
      2. Customer Certification Requirements/all customers
      3. Consumer Confidence Report/only select customers
      4. Consumer Confidence Report/all customers
    2. Stagnant water in a distribution system can have the following qualities ___________.
      1. Discoloration
      2. Odor
      3. Low chlorine residual
      4. All of the above
    3. Tri-halomethane are considered ___________.
      1. Surface water contaminants
      2. By-products of the disinfection process
      3. Groundwater contaminants
      4. All of the above
    4. AWWA stands for ___________.
      1. American Water Workers Agency
      2. American Water Wage Association
      3. American Water Works Association
      4. None of the above
    5. Primary drinking water standards are considered ___________.
      1. Health-related
      2. Aesthetic-related
      3. Not enforceable
      4. Less important than secondary standards

    1.3: Regulations is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Mike Alvord.

    • Was this article helpful?