President Signs Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments

[EPA press release - June 20, 1986]

President Ronald Reagan yesterday signed the 1986 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act, the first major environmental legislation to become law this year.

Lee M. Thomas, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator, said, "This law greatly increases EPA's responsibilities for protecting the nation's drinking water. We intend to faithfully carry out its provisions to assure the continued safeguarding of this precious resource."

Lawrence J. Jensen, EPA Assistant Administrator for Water, added, "Congress has sent a clear signal that the people of this nation are concerned about their drinking water. Solutions to drinking water challenges require that the states continue to be integrally involved in drinking water regulations. We look forward to strengthening our already good relationship with the states as we implement these amendments."

The measure, which passed both House and Senate by overwhelming margins last month, creates a demonstration program to protect aquifers from pollutants, mandates state-developed critical wellhead protection programs, requires the development of drinking water standards for many contaminants now unregulated, and strengthens EPA's enforcement powers in dealing with recalcitrant water systems and underground injection well operators. It also imposes a ban on lead-content plumbing materials. Studies have found that excessive levels of lead in drinking water can harm the central nervous system in humans, especially children.

The measure also provides substantial new authority to EPA to enforce the law including increased civil and criminal penalties for violations.

The new law:

  • Requires EPA to regulate more than 80 contaminants in drinking water within three years, and, after that, at least 25 more by 1991.

  • Requires certain water systems using surface water sources to use filtration treatment under appropriate circumstance.

  • Requires certain water systems using groundwater sources to use disinfection treatment.

  • Calls for EPA to impose new monitoring requirements on public water systems for contaminants not yet regulated.

  • Provides for a demonstration program to protect critical portions of designated aquifers.

  • Requires states to develop programs for protecting areas around wells supplying public drinking water systems.

  • Requires EPA to issue new rules for monitoring wells injecting wastes below drinking water sources, and report to Congress on other types of injection wells.

  • Prohibits use of lead solders, flux and pipes in public water systems. States will enforce this provision.

  • Authorizes EPA to treat Indian tribes as states and delegate primary enforcement responsibility to them for safe drinking water.

In order to execute EPA's responsibilities under the amendments, Congress authorized $170 million for fiscal 1987.

The EPA Office of Drinking Water, directed by Michael Cook, will administer the drinking water and underground injection control provisions of the act. The Office of Ground Water Protection , directed by Marian Mlay, will administer sole source aquifer and wellhead protection provisions.

A fact sheet on the 1986 Amendments is attached.

Fact Sheet

Key Provisions of Safe Drinking Water Act 1986 Amendments

Amendments to the 1974 Act were approved May 13 by the House 382 to 21, and May 21 by the Senate 94 to 0.


The amendments require 83 new primary drinking water standards within three years.

  • EPA must require nine contaminants within a year of enactment, another 40 within two years, and the rest within three years.

  • EPA has the option of substituting up to seven other contaminants for those on the list if it finds this will give greater health protection.

  • In addition to the above 83, at least 25 more primary standards will be required by 1991.

  • By 1988, EPA must specify criteria for filtration of surface water supplies.

  • By 1990, EPA must specify criteria for disinfection of groundwater supplies.

Monitoring for Unregulated Contaminants

  • EPA is required to issue within 18 months regulations requiring public water systems to test for contaminants not yet regulated in drinking water by the federal government. Public systems would have to test their water at least once every five years thereafter.

  • EPA is required to list the unregulated contaminants to be monitored. States with delegated authority can delete contaminants from the list if EPA approves, and can add to the list without EPA approval.

  • Small systems supplying less than 150 service connections are allowed to meet monitoring requirements simply by submitting a water sample to the state or EPA, or allowing the state or EPA to take their own sample.


  • EPA is required to issue administrative orders to begin court action against public water systems in violation when states do not take appropriate enforcement action within 30 days of notification.

  • Additional authority to enforce against public water systems in violation is granted, and maximum civil penalty limits are raised to $25,000 per day of violation.

  • EPA must enforce against violations whenever states do not take appropriate actions.

  • Civil and criminal penalty limits are increased to $25,000 and $50,000 per day of violation, respectively. Enforcement procedures are streamlined.

Ground Water

  • Sole Source Aquifer Demonstration Program

    • Requires EPA to establish demonstration programs to protect "critical aquifer areas," that is, all or part of a designated sole source aquifer from degradation.

    • EPA to establish within one year of date of enactment criteria for selecting such critical areas.

    • States and local authorities to map area and provide a comprehensive protection plan to EPA.

    • Once plan is approved, EPA may enter a cooperative agreement to implement the project on a 50/50 basis. Maximum grant to a state for any one aquifer is $4 million per year.

    • EPA must report to Congress by September1990 on accomplishments of this program.

  • Protection of Wellheads

    • Requires states to develop programs for protecting areas around wells supplying public drinking water systems from contamination that could harm health. Authorizes $20 million annually in Fiscal 1987-88 and $35 million in 1989-91.

    • Gives states three years to develop these programs.

    • Requires state wellhead protection program to define responsibilities of state and local governments and water systems, and meet other requirements. States are given three years to submit the plan to EPA.

    • EPA to provide criteria to states for defining areas within one year of enactment.

    • Upon approval, states are eligible for EPA grant for 50 percent of costs (determined by EPA) of plan development and implementation. Funds after three years of enactment are only available to implement protection.

    • States must start implementing a plan within two years of submittal and provide biannual status report to EPA.

  • Underground Injection
    • Requires EPA to issue rules within 18 months for monitoring of wells injecting wastes below a drinking water source (Class I wells).

    • Requires EPA to report to Congress by September 1987 summarizing results of state surveys now required on Class V wells.

    • Requires states to certify and EPA to review programs to regulate annular injection (injection between the tubing and protective casing of a well) and surface disposal of oilfield brines.

Ban on Lead-Content Plumbing Materials

  • Prohibits use of lead solders, flux and pipes in new installations and repairs of public water systems and drinking water plumbing connected to such systems. A warning is required on any solder containing more than .2 percent lead.

  • Prohibition to be implemented via state enforcement.

  • If EPA determines states's failure to enforce requirements, it may withhold up to 5 per cent of a public water system's grant.

  • EPA required to notify states of new requirements within 90 days of enforcement.

  • Public water systems required within two years to provide public notification of all users explaining the potential lead contamination sources and reasonably available methods of mitigating lead contamination.

Indian Jurisdictions

  • Authorizes EPA to treat Indian tribes as states under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Indian tribes may be delegated primary enforcement responsibility for public water systems and underground injection control, and may be provided with grant and contract assistance.

  • EPA must, within 18 months of enactment, promulgate final regulations specifying those provisions of the act for which it is appropriate to treat covered Indian tribes as states.

  • EPA, in conjunction with the Indian Health Service, must, within 12 months of enactment, conduct a survey of drinking water on Indian reservations.

Other Changes to Regulatory Programs

  • Federal authority to act against tampering with public water systems.

  • Revised procedures for public notification of water system violations. Notice of serious violations are to be given within 14 days.

  • Expanded federal emergency powers include intervention against high-risk contamination of underground drinking water sources as well as the water supply, and the right to require polluters to provide alternative supplies. Section includes new funding authorization.

Note: EPA already has begun to fulfill a substantial portion of the new statutory mandates. Of the more than 83 required standards, EPA has proposed Recommended Maximum Contaminant Levels (health goals) for 43 constituents; proposed Maximum Contaminant Levels (enforceable standards) for nine (volatile organic compounds), and promulgated a Maximum Contaminant Level for fluoride. EPA also has published proposed monitoring rules for 51 unregulated contaminants.