On Oct. 1, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) held a public meeting on a new proposal that would allow water systems to electronically deliver drinking water quality reports to the public. Currently, these reports, required under the Safe Drinking Water Act, are mailed to customers, often with their water bills.
Water utilities support the shift to electronic delivery. As we wrote in the Sept. 25 Watcher, we believe EPA must strengthen the proposal to ensure that electronic delivery does not mean less access for the public. Our concern arises from the real possibility that the customers least likely to have access to the Internet – poor and rural communities – are among those most likely to face deteriorating water quality.
The meeting was an opportunity for the EPA to hear from stakeholders. I testified for OMB Watch. While there are benefits to using electronic delivery (e.g., reduces printing and mailing costs and saves natural resources), we argued that such delivery should not reduce the public's access to information about their drinking water. We critiqued the EPA proposal for failing to provide clear standards for water companies to follow in shifting to electronic reporting and noted again that almost one-third of American households are still without broadband Internet access at home.
The stakeholder meeting was attended by water utility companies and water associations from around the country, who strongly supported the proposal to electronically deliver their water quality reports to their customers. Staff from the offices of Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Rep. Bill Young (R-FL) also participated. Both Toomey and Young have sponsored amendments that would have allowed water systems to post water quality reports online, rather than mailing the reports to customers. The only two public interest organizations raising concerns about rule during the meeting were OMB Watch and Food and Water Watch. While EPA is mostly hearing from the regulated industry, we tried to provide a voice for the consumer – the American public who rely on safe drinking water. We remain concerned that some members of the public may lose access to this important information if the proposal is not strengthened.
You can take action and stand up for your right to know about your drinking water quality. Urge the EPA to require all water systems to both mail the water quality reports and post them online and to redesign the reports so that it is easier for you and your family to understand risks to your drinking water. The agency is accepting comments on the proposal until Oct. 11.
Image by flickr user Rubén Díaz Alonso, used under a Creative Commons license.back to Blog