Existing Flexibilities under the Safe Drinking Water Act
What flexibilities can be used to maintain Certified Operators?
It is important to keep experienced, trained water system operators on the job. If training and certification programs are impacted, certification authorities can use online trainings and testing where feasible, extend deadlines for expiring operator certifications and training requirements, and approve minimum staffing or remote operation, as appropriate. States and primacy agencies can also consider expediting and expanding approval of reciprocity for certified operators from other jurisdictions to maximize the efficacy of these resources.
How can utilities work to ensure staff continuity?
EPA supports preparedness planning across the drinking water and wastewater sector by providing resources and tools to states and utilities as they work to provide safe drinking water and wastewater treatment across the United States. Water utilities can learn key business continuity concepts by accessing Business Continuity Planning for Water Utilities: Guidance Document.
Most utilities already have continuity plans in place as part of their best management practices. EPA recommends that states and primacy agencies work with their utilities to review and support implementation of continuity plans, as necessary, including plans to cover workforce shortages. Utilities can also use Water and Wastewater Agency Response Networks (WARNs), the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Circuit-Rider Program.
For more information about resources that can be used to support the water sector and its workforce, see https://www.epa.gov/coronavirus/water-utility-resources-covid-19-pandemic.
What approaches can public water systems (PWSs) take if they encounter challenges in accessing sampling locations in the distribution system or in homes?
Generally, PWSs have worked with their primacy agencies to establish routine monitoring locations and schedules for each applicable National Primary Drinking Water Regulation (NPDWR). If it is difficult to access these locations, EPA recommends that PWSs work with their primacy agencies to adjust their sampling plans as necessary, taking into consideration the existing flexibilities in several of the NPDWRs as well as guidance and policies issued by their primacy agency. Although more detail is available in the existing regulations, below is a summary of flexibilities that PWSs may find useful in addressing sampling challenges.
- The Revised Total Coliform Rule (RTCR) includes distribution system monitoring and requires identification of monitoring locations and a sampling schedule for both routine and repeat samples (40 CFR 141.853). The RTCR allows significant flexibility in choosing monitoring locations. For routine samples, the RTCR allows monitoring locations that are representative of water quality in the distribution system, and may include monitoring at residences, businesses, government buildings, dedicated sampling taps and other designated compliance sampling locations. Water systems can revise their sample siting plan with routine sampling locations as they deem necessary, without the approval from the primacy agency (40 CFR 141.853(a)(1)). These plans are subject to state reviews and revisions. The RTCR requires repeat sampling when total coliform is present; for these samples the RTCR provides flexibility for monitoring locations at the original tap, within five service connections upstream and downstream of the original tap, or at locations that the PWS believes better represent pathways of contamination into the distribution system. A PWS can immediately use alternate locations further than five connections from the original tap for repeat sampling if it submits updated sample siting plans to the primacy agency. The primacy agency may modify the alternate locations as needed (40 CFR 141.853(a)(1)(i)).
- The Disinfectant and Disinfection Byproduct Rules require water systems to collect samples for total trihalomethanes (TTHM) and haloacetic acids (HAA5) from their distribution systems. Water systems develop and implement a monitoring plan, which includes monitoring locations representing high TTHM or high HAA5 levels in the distribution system and a monitoring schedule based on the peak historical month for TTHM or HAA5 levels. Disinfection byproduct samples can be collected from an outside spigot or tap. After consultation with the primacy agency, revisions to monitoring locations can be made by the utility if they reflect distribution system locations with expected high TTHM or HAA5 levels (40 CFR 141.622(c)).
- The Lead and Copper Rule requires systems to collect samples from an interior tap from which water is typically drawn for consumption. System personnel do not have to collect the samples; customers may collect tap samples in their homes if they are provided with sampling instructions. If, for any reason, a water system cannot gain access to a sampling site in order to collect a follow-up tap sample, the system may collect the follow-up tap sample from another site in its sampling pool as long as the system documents that the new site meets the same targeting criteria and is within reasonable proximity of the original site (40 CFR 141.86(b)(4)). If systems run out of available sampling sites, EPA recommends that systems work with their primacy agency to develop alternate strategies; for example, the primacy agency has discretion to approve a different period for conducting the lead and copper tap sampling for systems collecting a reduced number of samples (40 CFR 141.86(d)(4)(iv)(A)).
How should PWSs address challenges associated with collecting samples under the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR 4)?
The UCMR 4 requires water systems to collect samples for 30 unregulated contaminants; approximately 2,000 are expected to complete their sampling in 2020. According to the regulation, samples need to be collected on a schedule—every three to six months for most contaminants, and twice a month for four consecutive months between March and November for cyanotoxins. Within these time frames, the UCMR 4 program provides flexibility through rescheduling options (40 CFR 141.40(a)(4)), use of alternate sampling sites in close proximity to original sites, and provisions for explaining missed samples. If water systems are not able to complete UCMR 4 sampling in accordance with their schedule or wish to propose alternate sampling locations, EPA recommends that the system contact their EPA Region, and the UCMR national program as follows:
- Large water systems (those serving >10,000 people) should contact EPA’s UCMR sampling coordinator (email@example.com) to request a schedule change.
- Small water systems (those serving ≤ 10,000 people) should contact EPA’s small system coordinator (UCMR4@glec.com) to request a schedule change.
Can primacy agencies and EPA extend regulatory deadlines, such as deadlines for monitoring, public notice of violations, consumer confidence report (CCR) delivery to customers, and the water system certification of CCR delivery?
Primacy agencies and EPA do not have the flexibility to extend regulatory deadlines without promulgating new regulations, except for those flexibilities that were already included in certain current regulations.
PWSs are required to conduct monitoring to demonstrate compliance with NPDWRs and must meet all compliance deadlines associated with the NPDWRs. This includes, but is not limited to, meeting the CCR delivery deadline and the CCR certification deadline. Failure to monitor (e.g., missed/late samples, sample collection procedures or sample collection sites not in accordance with the applicable NPDWRs) and failure to meet NPDWR compliance schedules remain violations.
Additionally, all PWSs are required to provide public notice (PN) for violations of NPDWRs and other situations identified in 40 CFR 141 Subpart Q. The PN rule identifies requirements for timing, delivery methods, and content. The PN rule allows primacy agencies to approve, in writing, alternative forms of delivery (see 40 CFR 141.202(c), 141.203(c), 141.204(c)).
On January 3, 2013, EPA released Safe Drinking Water Act – Consumer Confidence Report Rule Delivery guidance describing options available to CWSs for electronic delivery of the CCR. EPA encourages systems to use multiple notification means (e.g., social media) to increase the availability of information to customers.
What approaches can applicants, permittees and permitting authorities use in implementing Underground Injection Control (UIC) Permitting?
EPA supports maximizing the use of electronic forms of communication to the extent permissible by law to ensure that permit processing and approval continue as efficiently as possible.
- If a permittee believes that an application to renew a permit may be delayed due to an emergency situation, the permittee should contact the permitting authority as soon as possible. Permittees should make every effort to timely re-apply before their permit expires. To preserve the ability for permits to be administratively continued in effect after expiration pursuant to 40 CFR 140.37, permittees are encouraged to work with EPA’s regional director to develop a timeline for the permittee to submit a timely and complete renewal application. For permits that are issued under an authorized state, tribal, or territorial program, a permittee must check with that agency to determine if any similar discretion exists under those programs.
- New applications for a permit may, in some cases, be required to be delivered in a hard copy format. In those instances, please contact your permitting authority for guidance. Providing an electronic copy of the submission in conjunction with the paper submission would allow the permitting authority the ability to timely evaluate what actions might be taken on the submittal in accordance with applicable law.
- Public Participation
- To facilitate robust opportunities for public participation in the permit process, including public hearings, EPA will use, and encourages primacy agencies to use, electronic and telephonic communication, to the extent possible under the law.
States, tribes and territories can use the resource Modernizing Public Hearings for Water Quality Standard Decisions Consistent with 40 CFR 25.5 to incorporate technologies into their public hearing process that are consistent with federal public hearing regulations. For example, it highlights that states, tribes, and territories have the discretion to use technology such as web conferencing platforms to host online public hearings. Another available resource regarding the use of virtual public hearings and meetings is the Virtual Public Hearings and Meetings memorandum issued by EPA’s General Counsel on April 16, 2020.
- If individuals or organizations have difficulty submitting comments electronically or participating in a hearing remotely, they should contact the individual listed in the public notice as the person from whom interested persons may obtain further information.