Tribal Programs – Drinking Water
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Rule Monitoring Placards – check to make sure you download the correct placard for your public water system type PDF
Each compliance report discusses the violations at public water systems on Indian reservations; EPA’s enforcement and compliance assistance activities with respect to Tribal PWSs; and the financial assistance EPA has provided to facilitate the provision of safe drinking water to Tribes.
(34 pp, 98K)
Tribal PWSS & UIC Programs
In 1974 the United States Congress passed legislation, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), designed to maintain and improve the quality of the nation’s drinking waters. Two major regulatory programs were created in the SDWA: the Public Water System Supervision (PWSS) and the Underground Injection Control (UIC) programs.
Congress authorized EPA to delegate responsibilities to states for implementing and enforcing national standards within their jurisdiction. States must apply to EPA if they want this “primacy” responsibility and must develop PWSS or UIC programs that meet national requirements. EPA is still responsible for developing national regulations, overseeing state primacy programs and implementing programs in states without primacy.
Because of their unique status, Indian tribes were not eligible to assume primacy in the original Act. Instead EPA regions were responsible for primary enforcement authority of PWSS and UIC programs on Tribal lands. This changed in 1986 when the Amendments to the SDWA added provisions that allow federally recognized tribes to assume primacy for the PWSS and UIC programs. Section 1451 (“Indian Tribes”) of SDWA authorizes the EPA to treat Indian tribes in a manner similar to states and to assign primary enforcement responsibility (primacy) to qualified tribes.
The PWSS and UIC programs are very complex and costly to operate. For many tribes (especially those that do not have a large number of public water systems or underground injection wells), the costs and resources required to achieve and maintain a regulatory program may far exceed the benefits from achieving primacy. Due to such difficulties, currently the only tribe that has sought and obtained primacy for the PWSS program is the Navajo Nation. There are a few tribes that are pursuing primacy in the PWSS and UIC programs.
States and tribes that do not obtain PWSS and UIC program delegation continue to be directly implemented by the EPA region in which the State or reservation is located. All EPA regions, excluding Region III (which has no federally recognized tribes), operate tribal PWSS and UIC programs to manage public water systems or underground injection wells on Indian lands.
EPA’s 1997 inventory shows that there are nearly 1000 public water systems (740 community water systems, 90 nontransient noncommunity water systems and 130 transient noncommunity water systems) that the EPA regional offices manage on Indian lands serving a population of nearly 500,000. There are also over 5,300 injection wells (one Class I well, 4,300 Class II wells, 0 Class III wells and 1,042 Class V wells) on tribal lands that are managed by regional UIC staff.
As the primary enforcement authority for tribal public water systems, EPA regions are responsible for enforcing against those systems that do not comply with federal drinking water regulations. A formal enforcement action is taken as a last measure. EPA regions dedicate a great deal of resources to provide tribes with technical assistance to help their systems or wells comply with federal standards. Regional staff visit reservations as often as possible to provide compliance assistance on site. Many Regions also fund circuit rider programs which enable other qualified persons the opportunity to provide technical assistance and training directly to tribes.
For more information on the Tribal PWSS and UIC programs, please contact your program representative.
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) Amendments of 1996 required states to develop and implement source water assessment programs (SWAPs) to analyze existing and potential threats to the quality of the public drinking water throughout the state. Using these programs, most states have completed source water assessments for every public water system — from major metropolitan areas to the smallest towns. Even schools, restaurants, and other public facilities that have wells or surface water supplies have been assessed. A source water assessment is a study and report, unique to a water system, that provides basic information about the water used to provide drinking water. States are working with local communities and public water systems to identify protection measures to address potential threats to sources of drinking water.
EPA publications and resources
The Wellhead Protection Program (WHPP) is a pollution prevention and management program used to protect underground sources of drinking water. The national WHPP was established under section 1428 of the 1986 SDWA amendments. The law specified that certain program activities, such as delineation, contaminant source inventory, contingency planning and source management, be incorporated into state WHPPs, which are approved by EPA prior to implementation. All states have EPA-approved state WHPPs. Although section 1428 applies only to states, a number of tribes are implementing the program as well.
WHPPs provided the foundation for many of the state source water assessment programs required under the 1996 SDWA amendments. Most states also use the wellhead protection program as a foundation for assessing and protecting ground water systems. State WHPPs vary greatly. For example, some states require community water systems to develop management plans, while others rely on education and technical assistance to encourage voluntary action. Other states have mandatory requirements for wellhead protection at the local level. Guidance, publications and other resources are available on state source water web sites.
Non-EPA publications and resources
Many states have also developed programs that are focused specifically on ground water protection. Several states developed formal Comprehensive State Ground Water Protection Programs (CSGWPP), which were designed as a management tool for states to use to integrate all programs that affect ground water quality, thus allowing better decisions to be made. Although most states are no longer pursuing formal approval of a CSGW pp, virtually all states are pursuing at least some of the individual elements necessary for comprehensive ground water protection. Within EPA, the source water protection program is working with the underground storage tank program to address potential threats to ground water posed by leaking tanks.
A sole source aquifer supplies 50 percent or more of the drinking water for a given aquifer service area for which there are no reasonably available alternative sources, should the aquifer become contaminated. Designation as a sole source aquifer protects an area’s ground water resources by requiring EPA to review any proposed projects within the designated area that are receiving federal financial assistance.
The goal of source water protection is to protect the drinking water resource by protecting and preserving the environmental quality of the watershed above the intake (or the aquifer around the well). The assessment is the first step in the process to protect the resource. Once a watershed has been assessed to determine its current condition and the extent of the threats to the system, a watershed plan can be developed and implemented.
EPA’s Office of Water has numerous programs that focus on watershed protection under the Clean Water Act (CWA). The Act includes programs such as the Nonpoint Source Program, National Estuary Program, the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Program, and the National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) program. Each of these programs encourage states to develop programs to promote watershed-based protection, and they have elements that support watershed-based planning and implementation. The federal programs are generally implemented at the state level.
There is no single federal program for implementing source water protection plans and activities. However, many federal, tribal, regional, and local programs have tools and resources that can be used to focus on protecting drinking water. Source water protection can benefit, and benefit from, other EPA programs, other federal programs and non-governmental programs:
EPA is firmly committed to helping tribes to assess the rivers, lakes, springs and aquifers that serve as tribal public water supplies and to implement measures to protect against contamination of these water resources.