In response to increasing issues around stormwater, the WQA also expanded the definition of wastewater to include industrial stormwater discharges and municipal separate storm sewer systems (also known as MS4s) as point sources, and thus required them to obtain national pollutant discharge elimination system (NPDES) permits (US EPA, 2018b). These permits require regulated municipalities to use best management practices to reduce pollutants to the “maximum extent practicable” (Water Quality Act of 1987, 33 U.S.C. § 1342). Agricultural discharges continued to be exempt, but the WQA created the Nonpoint Source Management Program to provide grants to states, territories and First Nations to support demonstration projects, technology transfer, education, training, technical assistance and related activities designed to reduce nonpoint source water pollution (Water Quality Act of 1987, 33 U.S.C. § 1329).
Additionally, the WQA created a program for the management of biosolids (sludge) generated by publicly-owned treatment works (POTWs). The EPA was required to develop guidelines for usage and disposal of sewage sludge or biosolids, and the agency created an Intra-Agency Sludge Task Force to aid in this task (Water Quality Act of 1987, 33 U.S.C. § 1345).
Safe Drinking Water Act
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was enacted in 1974 to protect public drinking water supplies. Under the SDWA, the EPA sets standards for drinking water quality and implements programs to ensure safe drinking water (US EPA, 2017c). The SDWA applies to every public water system in the US—of which there are currently more than 151,000. The Act does not cover private wells (Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974; US EPA, 2017b).
The National Primary Drinking Water Regulations set by the EPA under the SDWA include both mandatory maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) and voluntary maximum contaminant level goals (MCLGs) for contaminants that may cause adverse public health effects. Water standards are organized into six categories: microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection byproducts, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals, and radionuclides (US EPA, 1988). To meet these requirements, public water systems are required to monitor water for contaminants, and water samples must be regularly analyzed using EPA-approved testing methods. Regulatory oversight of public water systems is managed by “primacy” agencies—either state government agencies, Indian tribes, or EPA regional offices (US EPA, 2018a).
A variety of amendments have expanded upon the original SDWA:
- 1986: The National Primary Drinking Water Regulations must also be applied to community and non-transient non-community water systems (US EPA, 1986).
- 1996: Regulatory and protective activities must be communicated via consumer confidence reports and public right-to-know; the EPA must conduct cost-benefit analyses and strength protections against microbial contaminants; water system operators must be EPA-certified; and small water systems must receive special consideration to ensure they have the managerial, financial, and technical ability to comply with drinking water standards (Government Publishing Office [GPO], 1996).
- 2005: Fluids or other propping agents (except diesel) used for fracking are exempt from underground injection regulations (Energy Policy Act of 2005, 42 U.S.C. § 1421).
- 2011: Lead in drinking water must be reduced or eliminated via lead-free plumbing fixtures and fittings (Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act, 42 U.S.C. § 300).
- 2015: Risks associated with algal toxins in drinking water must be assessed and managed by the EPA (US EPA, 2015).
- 2016: Water infrastructure improvements, necessitated by water contamination crises like that in Flint, MI, shall be supported by a loan program, communicated to the public, and mitigated by a voluntary testing program for water supplies in schools (Grassroots Rural and Small Community Water Systems Assistance Act of 2016, 42 U.S.C. § 300).