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Policy Statement 361 - Safe Drinking Water

 

Approved by the Energy, Environment, and Water Policy Committee on April 1, 2019
Approved by the Public Policy Committee on April 28, 2019
Adopted by the Board of Direction on July 13, 2019

Policy

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), recognizing the critical importance of safe drinking water to the public's safety, health, and welfare of safe drinking water:

  • Recommends full appropriation of state and federal authorized funding for safe drinking water supply and system programs;
    Recommends that Congress amend the Safe Drinking Water Act (Act) to require states to review and update, as required, their contaminant-monitoring programs at least once every three years to ensure that all potential contaminants are periodically evaluated commensurate with their risk to human health;
  • Recommends that regulations promulgated under the 1996 amendments to the Act, balance the concern for drinking water quality with risk-based contaminant limitations that include adverse health effects, frequency of occurrence, and treatment technologies to avoid undue financial burdens on consumers;
  • Encourages Congress, through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), to support state programs by providing federal funding, program planning assistance, and technical guidance with sufficient flexibility to accommodate state and local issues;
    Supports continued research on emerging pathogens and pollutants and into improved methods governing the disinfection of drinking water to protect public health from any harmful byproducts;
  • Encourages the professional education, research and development necessary to formulate new methods of water quality analysis, water treatment, and related technologies; and
  • Recommends specific programs and funding for water quality improvements for removal of lead in water systems prioritizing lead line, service line, and/or plumbing removal or replacement, targeting systems with the highest concentration exceedances of lead and copper.

Issue

Treatment of drinking water for contaminants is complex and the issues are interrelated.  Examples of such issues include mandatory disinfection which can result in disinfection by products and increased opportunity for corrosion. These regulations are less effective when they are not coordinated in content and timing, and when water providers are not given clear guidance. Development and implementation of these regulations with appropriate flexibility to accommodate regional risk variations will promote new developments in water quality analysis, water treatment, and related technologies.

A major challenge for water suppliers is how to control and limit the risks from pathogens and disinfection byproducts. It is important to provide protection from pathogens while also minimizing health risks to the population from disinfection byproducts. 

In some cities, water supply infrastructure remains in use that was installed more than 100 years ago. Lead was common in pipes and fixtures through the mid-20th century. The EPA's Lead and Copper Rule that restricted lead levels in drinking water supplies was first enacted in 1991 and drinking water suppliers routinely use additives to prevent corrosion on legacy pipes. Where lead service lines between the public water mains and end users remain in service, some owners do not have the resources to address these pipes. Replacement programs exist in some cities, but funding competes with other utility needs. Accelerating the replacement of these lead-pipes is directly dependent upon funding streams - available and yet to be identified.

Rationale

The quality of our nation's water supply is one the most important achievements of the Civil Engineering profession in the 20th century. In the United States, the vast majority of our public water systems routinely meet or exceed all federal standards for drinking water; however, water infrastructure is rapidly aging. Legacy issues such as lead pipes and fixtures and disinfection byproducts remain to be addressed and new challenges such as emerging pathogens and pollutants are arising.  

EPA water quality regulations must conform to certain basic principles to be effective but recognize that characteristics and quality of drinking water sources vary greatly by region. If interrelated regulations are not coordinated through objective analysis considering tradeoffs and new developments, the most timely and cost effective solutions will not be possible. Available resources should be allocated to the greatest health risk. Consequently, flexibility is important and regulations must focus on realistic and implementable standards for particular contaminants. Adequately funded state programs are needed because the states are in the best position to develop and enforce the detailed regulations under the Act and to make specific on site decisions as necessary. The states are also in the best position to provide necessary technical assistance to smaller water systems and to take any appropriate enforcement actions. Congress, through the EPA, needs to provide federal funding to ensure effective implementation of the Act by the states. 

Disinfection of drinking water continues to be important to the protection of public health. Civil engineers design and construct water treatment plants and distribution systems and conduct research into treatment technologies. Selection of the appropriate method of disinfection for a particular system should be based on site specific considerations, such as quality of the source water and economics of the project.  Continued research into all viable disinfection technologies is needed to improve disinfection performance, minimize creation of harmful disinfection byproducts and more completely understand the impacts of each method of disinfection.

ASCE Policy Statement 361
First Approved on 1990



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