Science-based Cost Effective Regulations


The 1996 Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) set the stage for cost-effective regulations based on the best available science, more clearly than any other environmental regulation. Unlike many other regulations, it includes processes to collect and assess whether there is a meaningful opportunity to protect public health through regulation. Making sound public policy decisions becomes much more challenging when the public health benefits are not clear or the appropriate risk management strategies are uncertain.


Drinking Water Health Advisories

In 2015 and 2016 EPA published health advisories for microcystin, cylindrospermopsin, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS). Health advisories are not subject to the same requirements as drinking water regulations. The advisories for cyanotoxins were accompanied by recommendations for “do-not-drink” orders, which raised the question of what role drinking water health advisories play under the SDWA. And given potential applications, what standard of care should EPA meet when developing advisories or associated recommendations.

AWWA is calling on the EPA to hold to established principles of good governance in the development of future health advisories:

  • Actively engage stakeholders as it develops health advisories and accompanying recommendations.
  • Facilitate effective and consistent state action in response to health advisories.
  • Evaluate the appropriateness of the current health advisory development process and calculation used to set health advisory levels.
  • Work with AWWA, states, and other stakeholders to develop an ongoing dialogue around drinking water, contaminants of concern and effective risk communication.

AWWA also prepared a number of resources to help water systems respond to the cyanotoxin and PFAS health advisories.


The Natural Resource Defense Council filed suit in February 2016 (PDF) charging that in not proposing an MCL for perchlorate EPA had failed to fulfill its nondiscretionary duties under the Safe Drinking Water Act. EPA is currently implementing a negotiated settlement that commits the Agency to issue a proposed regulation by October 31, 2018 and a final regulatory decision by December 2019. EPA has filed for an extension to this court ordered deadline.

 The first critical step in meeting the above schedule is determining what a suitable maximum contaminant level goal would be for perchlorate.  This requires developing a model of perchlorate metabolism.  AWWA has solicited expert advice on EPA’s draft biologically based dose-response model and provided their insights to EPA. 

AWWA is recommending that EPA:

  • Return to its initial decision not to regulate perchlorate based on the lack of ‘‘a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by public water systems.”
  • Not use SDWA as a tool to manage a public health issue dominated by a dietary issue – dietary iodine deficiency.
  • Revise the Office of Land and Emergency Management “Assessment Guidance for Perchlorate” to be consistent with the current interim perchlorate health advisory.
  • Utilize the RfD (0.0007 mg/Kg-day) recommended by the National Academy of Sciences for considering further regulatory action until limitations in the current BBDR modelling can be addressed.

Regulatory Reform

Each Administration change brings with it a shift in the public policy agenda and priorities. Regulatory reform is a principle on which President Trump campaigned and is now in the process of implementing.

In early 2017 three executive orders set the stage for establishing a regulatory budget. Current estimates for reduced regulatory burden in FY 2018 reach $560 million annually. This reduction has come through a series of actions, a number of which touch on the water sector including repealing and replacing the Clean Water Rule, and effluent guideline for the steam power generators. The current EPA regulatory agenda focuses is limited to four proposed regulatory actions: numeric nutrient criteria for Missouri Lakes, aluminum aquatic life criteria for Oregon, the Lead and Copper Rule, and public notice requirements for combined sewer overflow discharges to the Great Lakes.