Partial Reform of Water Quality Reports Fails in Senate
by Sophia Zeng*
Jul 5, 2012
An effort to partially reform public water quality reports failed in the Senate late last month. The proposed amendment to the Farm Bill, offered by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA), would have allowed Consumer Confidence Reports to be available online instead of through the mail, but it would not have made the complex reports any easier to understand.
What are Consumer Confidence Reports?
Consumer Confidence Reports (CCRs) provide information to water customers about their drinking water, including the source of the water, potential contaminants, and any violation of water quality rules. This information should allow Americans to know about possible risks to their water supply in order to protect their families and communities. However, the CCRs have been criticized for being difficult to understand and failing to meaningfully inform consumers about the safety of their water.
Amendment Would Have Allowed Online Access in Lieu of Mailing
Toomey's amendment would have allowed water systems to post their CCRs online rather than mail the reports to customers, with a few exceptions such as a water system failing a water quality standard in the past year. The amendment was voted down, with 58 senators in favor and 41 against, narrowly falling short of the 60 votes needed for passage.
Industry associations such as the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the National Association of Water Companies (NAWC) supported the amendment, claiming that it would save companies thousands of dollars in printing fees annually. However, opponents such as American Rivers said the amendment would violate public’s right to know by limiting CCR accessibility.
EPA is Also Reviewing the CCR Rule
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also reviewing the CCR rule as part of the retrospective review ordered by the Obama administration in January 2011. The review focuses on the option of placing CCRs online to reduce the cost of mailing hard copies, but the agency is also considering the content of the CCRs and whether the reports are effective in informing the public. The review is still ongoing, and EPA has not made any recent announcement regarding its status.
Making CCRs More Meaningful to Everyday Americans
In the 21st century, these important reports should be accessible to the public online, but not everyone has online access. Water customers should have the option to receive the reports via regular mail.
Furthermore, changing the delivery method will do little to make the reports more useful to the public. If customers can’t understand the information, whether on paper or online, they won’t be able to protect themselves against risks to their drinking water. The complex information in the reports and the lack of standard, easy-to-understand indicators pose a daunting challenge to consumers. Rather than reducing mailing costs for utilities, reform efforts need to make the reports more customer-friendly so they can better achieve their purpose.back to Blog