Salt Creek Watershed Project
Clean Water Act
In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), P.L. 93-523. Its purpose was to protect the nation's drinking water from harmful biological and chemical contaminants. The act also addressed groundwater protection, specifically providing for controls on the underground injection of wastes, e.g., from oil-drilling, that might contaminate water supplies.
Under the act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was given responsibility for establishing quality standards and treatment requirements for drinking water. States were asked to implement national standards and enforce compliance.
Amendments to the SDWA in 1986 generally strengthened earlier provisions relating to quality standards and enforcement authority. In addition, groundwater protection received more attention. EPA was given a mandate to issue drinking water regulations for 83 contaminants within three years after passage of the amendments. Regulatory rules for an additional 25 contaminants were to be added every three years thereafter. (By early 1994, EPA had issued rules for 84 contaminants.) The 1986 amendments also required all public water systems using surface water to disinfect and, in some cases, filter drinking water.
Relatively few of the nation's 217,000 public water systems have been contaminated in recent years. That is, the water being supplied to the public has had neither microbes nor chemical residues in excess of standards. However, some worry about the long-term effects of chemicals, both those already regulated and those for which standards have not yet been set.
Authorization for federal funding under the amended SDWA expired on September 30, 1991. Since then, some funding has continued through annual appropriations laws. In 1994, both the Senate and House approved bills that would have authorized extension of the SDWA. However, differences in the bills could not be resolved before adjournment of the 103rd Congress. As a result, $600 million appropriated in fiscal 1994 and $700 million appropriated in fiscal 1995 for local drinking water treatment plants will not be available. Further deliberations are expected in 1995.