Who supplies the water?
The public water supply can be owned and operated by private interests, municipalities, or by a public
Most residents of Snohomish County are serviced by or through City of Everett in some capacity. This
water comes from Sultan River Basin, and makes its way to Everett. Further down the line is the City
of Snohomish, serviced by PUD #1, who purchases water from City of Everett and supplements it with
ground water from two wells north of Lake Stevens.
The City of Everett is a municipality, and PUD #1 is a Public Utility District --- by definition a not-for-
profit, community owned, utility --- operated by voter appointed officials. For the purposes of this
article, anybody who operates a public water system is referred to as the operator
Who determines how water is treated?
To some degree, it is in the interest of the operator to treat the water for quality IE taste and smell, as
consumers won’t drink it and won’t pay for it if the quality is poor. What is harder for consumers to
detect, however, is how safe the water is. A taste test doesn’t necessarily indicate what is
in the water.
To protect consumers from health hazards due to negligence, incompetence or malicious intent, the
Safe Water Drinking Act was created to authorize the EPA to establish and enforce drinking water
Who is the EPA and what are their interests?
In the midst of reported environmental concern in the 1960’s, President Nixon proposed to Congress a
consolidation of existing environmental responsibilities of the federal government under one agency.
The House and Senate approved, and the agency’s first Administrator was sworn in on December 4
Environmental Protection Agency
is is authorized to:
---Do research on pollutants
---Establish “quantitative baselines”
---Set and enforce standards for air and water quality
---Provide financial and technical assistance and training to States and other entities
How does the EPA regulate water quality?
The Safe Water Drinking Act was passed in 1974, which, according to their website:
“authorizes the EPA to establish minimum standards to protect tap water and requires all public water
systems to comply.
So how, exactly, does this all happen? We wanted to know, so we read through t
he 144 pages of the
most recent publication, from December 29
, 2019. The intent of the Act is to authorize the EPA to
establish two things:
1. A list of regulated contaminants and the allowable concentration of each in the water supply, referred
to as Maximum Contaminant Level or MCL. This is based on research done to establish the potential
negative effects of consumption on human health
2. Techniques and technology that are required to meet the MCL for each contaminant. This includes
procedures, materials and equipment for collection, storage, monitoring, treatment, operation,
distribution, certification of operators (IE employees), and security
The Administrator has the responsibility of making sure the operators are complying with the standards
set. Any task that falls under this responsibility can be delegated to employees of the EPA or to a State.
The State, if assuming responsibility for the compliance of the operator, must adhere to a standard
procedure for reporting to the Administrator. Schedules and required contents of the report are
established in the SWDA.
The standards being set by the Administrator are a work in progress. For example, the list of
contaminants must be periodically reviewed, and added to as research indicates that changing standards
offers a significant benefit for the health of consumers. Schedules, funding, and parameters for research
are all set out for the Administrator. The research covers things like techniques to be used,
contaminants to be screened for, and MCL’s to be adhered to.
The different types of regulated contaminants are:
Microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection byproducts, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals,
radionuclides. For a complete list of every contaminant that is regulated, click here.
The SDWA basically covers the threat of contaminants that are initially present or acquired through the
collection, storage, treatment, distribution. This could be failure in monitoring or treatment c
ould be due to incompetence, diligence, unresponsiveness, unwillingness.
Possible emergencies and failure or incapacity to respond.
In the event of a non-compliance that violates an MCL, the users of the water system must be notified
in a way that the Administrator sees fit.
Summary and conclusion
My personal take, having read through it twice, is that the legislation establishes some degree of
authority for enforcement and clearly provides for continual investigation into the effects of the content
of drinking water on public health.
This means the standards are being updated, the methods and equipment for treatment are being
upgraded, and the list of contaminants is ever growing.Still, there are a few reasons why you might not want to assume that your water is safe:
---The scientific studies might not be thorough or complete. They are fallible studies carried out by
fallible and subjective humans, and the data is then interpreted by fallible and subjective humans.
---The provisions for enforcement are vague and involve a slow response time (up to thirty days to get
back into compliance in some cases) You’ll be notified, but this might not get to you before you drink
---Your own pipes can still have harmful chemicals like BPA and lead. The operator’s responsibility
ends at your water meter.
---There may be unregulated or unexpected contaminants present in water
To protect your own water quality, you can install an in-line filter, a filter at the tap, or use a secondary
method of filtering, like a Berkey filter, which is advertised to remove a list of contaminants that is
longer than the EPA’s list of regulated ones. This requires an extra step that is quite manageable, but if
you don’t want to deal with that, there are filtration systems available that can be installed in line or at
We encourage you to do your own research into the ways that water is regulated. For more info:
---For a list of the regulated contaminants and their MCL’s,
---For info about the history of the EPA (as told by the EPA):
---For gernal info about what the EPA does:
---For more info about the SDWA, or to read the text: