Public water systems must notify their customers when they violate EPA or state drinking water regulations (including monitoring requirements) or otherwise provide drinking water that may pose a risk to consumer’s health.
Water systems test regularly for approximately 90 contaminants to make sure that no contaminant is present at levels which may pose a risk to human health.
Unfortunately, water quality can sometimes change. Despite the efforts of water suppliers, problems with drinking water can and do occur.
When it does, people who drink the water have a right to know what happened and what they need to do. The public notice requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act require water suppliers to provide this notice.
EPA sets strict requirements on the form, manner, content, and frequency of public notices. Notices must contain:
- A description of the violation that occurred, including the potential health effects
- The population at risk and if alternate water supplies need to be used
- What the water system is doing to correct the problem
- Actions consumers can take
- When the violation occurred and when the system expects it to be resolved
- How to contact the water system for more information
- Language encouraging broader distribution of the notice
EPA specifies three categories, or tiers, of public notification. Depending on what tier a violation or situation falls into, water systems have different amounts of time to distribute the notice and different ways to deliver the notice:
- Immediate Notice (Tier 1): Any time a situation occurs where there is the potential for human health to be immediately impacted, water suppliers have 24 hours to notify people who may drink the water of the situation. Water suppliers must use media outlets such as television, radio, and newspapers, post their notice in public places, or personally deliver a notice to their customers in these situations.
- Notice as soon as possible (Tier 2): Any time a water system provides water with levels of a contaminant that exceed EPA or state standards or that hasn't been treated properly, but that doesn't pose an immediate risk to human health, the water system must notify its customers as soon as possible, but within 30 days of the violation. Notice may be provided via the media, posting, or through the mail.
- Annual Notice (Tier 3): When water systems violate a drinking water standard that does not have a direct impact on human health (for example, failing to take a required sample on time) the water supplier has up to a year to provide a notice of this situation to its customers. The extra time gives water suppliers the opportunity to consolidate these notices and send them with annual water quality reports (consumer confidence reports).