Protecting Safe Drinking Water and Your Right to Know
by Gavin Baker, 10/12/2012
On Oct. 11, OMB Watch and 14 other organizations filed comments with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), highlighting ways to strengthen the drinking water quality reports that consumers receive from water utilities. EPA recently proposed changes in how the reports are delivered to consumers, which could actually reduce public access to the information.
Water companies are required to send their customers annual reports with important information about their drinking water, including the source of the water and pollution threats to it, contaminants found and the possible sources of those contaminants, and any health risks. These reports, known as Consumer Confidence Reports, are key to raising consumers' awareness of drinking water issues and keeping the companies honest about the service they provide.
EPA's proposal would let utilities deliver the reports electronically, which isn't necessarily a bad idea. The problem is, the proposal is too long on flexibility for the industry and too short on standards to ensure that the public won’t lose access to this important information. For example, almost one-third of American households are without broadband Internet access at home, and customers least likely to have online access – those in poor and rural communities – are among those most likely to face deteriorating water quality. If utilities are allowed to simply switch to all-electronic delivery, these customers could be left in the dark about potential drinking water risks.
Our comments lay out steps EPA should take to ensure that electronic delivery works well for consumers, as well as other ways to make the information more accessible. The comments were endorsed by water experts including Clean Water Action and Food & Water Watch, consumer advocates like the National Consumer Law Center, and transparency supporters like OpenTheGovernment.org, among others.
In addition to the organizations, more than 700 consumers submitted comments to EPA in response to our action alert. Thank you to everyone who stood up to support government transparency and our right to know about the quality of our drinking water.
With so many voices calling for changes to the proposed policy, we hope EPA will carefully reconsider its proposal. The reforms we suggest in our comments can ensure that the public has ready access to information about their drinking water quality.