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Federal Facilities and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

The Safe Drinking Water Act directs EPA to set requirements for the level of contaminants in drinking water, and standards by which water supply system operators must comply to meet these levels. Part of EPA's mission is to ensure that Federal facilities comply with these requirements.

Section 1447 of the SDWA waives the sovereign immunity of the United States. Thus, Federal agencies must comply with all Federal, State, interstate, and local safe drinking water requirements. SDWA section 1447(a) provides that Federal agencies “1) owning or operating any facility in a wellhead protection area; 2) engaged in any activity at such facility resulting, or which may result, in the contamination of water supplies in any such area; 3) owning or operating any public water system; or 4) engaged in any activity resulting, or which may result in, underground injection which endangers drinking water” shall be subject to and comply with all substantive and procedural Federal, State, interstate, and local requirements to the same extent as any person.

Applicable Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program - Federal agencies are subject to the State and Federal regulations concerning underground injection wells.

EPA Enforcement

SDWA section 1447 now provides the blanket authority for EPA to issue penalty orders to Federal agencies for violations of any requirement of SDWA or requirement or schedule imposed by an administrative compliance order, an imminent and substantial endangerment order, or other administrative order. EPA must give the person to whom the UIC order is directed notice and an opportunity to request a hearing on the order. Failure to comply with a UIC compliance order would subject the Federal agency to administrative penalties under §1447. For more information on EPA’s Federal facility penalty order authority under SDWA, see the Guidance on Federal Facility Penalty Order Authority Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, as amended in 1996 (11 pp, 7MB About PDF).

Emergency Powers

Upon receipt of information that a contaminant that is present in or likely to enter a public water system or an underground source of drinking water may present an imminent and substantial endangerment to the health of persons, EPA may take any action she deems necessary to protect human health. These orders can be issued to Federal agencies.

Actions EPA may take under this section include, but are not limited to, issuing administrative orders, including orders for the provision of alternative water supplies and commencing civil action for appropriate relief, including a restraining order or permanent or temporary injunction.

To learn more, review the EPA's Federal Facilities Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) enforcement and compliance program documents.


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