August 9, 2000

EPA's Ground Water Rule

  • Robert S. Raucher

Key materials
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Rulemaking:

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Ground Water Rule

Stated Purpose:

Provide public health risk reduction benefits for Americans who are served by public water systems that rely on ground water.

Summary of RSP Comment:

The Ground Water Rule is an attempt to provide users of ground-water-based PWS with protection from the risks of potential fecal contamination. EPA estimates that waterborne pathogens cause approximately 170,000 viral illnesses each year, and 15 premature fatalities. EPA has tried to embrace several good regulatory design practices into its construct for the proposed rule, including elements of targeting based on risk, and a set of flexible compliance strategies. Nevertheless, EPA's preferred approach-the proposed multiple barrier option-may generate benefits that fall short of anticipated costs. Even without making any adjustment to EPA's benefit and cost data, the routine monitoring required by this option is likely in total to impose more costs than benefits on water systems and (ultimately) on their consumers. Moreover, transient non-community water systems and smaller systems will be particularly burdened by the proposed requirements, suggesting that they will be the least likely to enjoy benefits while sharing disproportionately in the costs of the rule. Therefore, it is unlikely that the proposed rule can be justified on a benefit-cost basis unless it is better targeted (e.g., not on transient, non-community water systems and perhaps not on the smallest systems). In addition to the problems apparent in the benefit-cost comparison, there may be more fundamental problems with the rule as proposed. The most significant is the over-reliance on disinfection over other elements of the rule. While disinfection can be a highly valuable component of the Ground Water Rule, it is not a panacea, and it is over emphasized in the proposed approach at the expense of other needs. The focus must remain on using safe water sources and simple yet sound sanitary practices including well construction and siting. Especially for the smaller systems, EPA should consider a more basic approach; one that more carefully weighs what can be achieved through disinfection against the costs, and targets treatment accordingly.