Integrated Planning: The Keystone of Capacity Development and Small Waster Systems Including a Case Study of the Montgomery County Public Service Authority

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ABSTRACT
Supplying water to communities is one of the primary services of many local governments in the United States. Local governments use a variety of means for developing community water systems. The major goal of municipal water suppliers is to provide safe and affordable water for residential, commercial, agricultural, and industrial uses. In rural localities, provision of safe public drinking water can pose a significant challenge, especially given financial and economic constraints inherent in small communities where economies of scale are limited. In an effort to ensure that public water systems meet minimum standards for safe drinking water, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974. The act requires all community water systems to meet minimum standards for drinking water quality. Community water systems cannot meet minimum water quality standards without strong financial, managerial, and technical capacity. The 1996 Amendments to SDWA address small systems through the new Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, Capacity Development, source water protection, operator certification, consumer confidence, and variances and exemptions. These components are interrelated and connect in multiple ways. In a somewhat overstated manner, capacity development can be thought of as a tapestry which weaves together all existing State drinking water program activities into a focused effort to help troubled water systems. This paper explores opportunities and constraints of developing small rural water supply systems in the context of the Safe Drinking Water Act requirements.

INTRODUCTION

“Providing safe, clean drinking water to the 254 million people served by
approximately 54,000 community water systems in the United States is an
important goal of federal, state, and local officials.”
-US EPA, 2000-

Supplying water to communities is one of the primary services of many local governments in the United States. Local governments use a variety of means for developing community water systems including developing major water projects for reservoir storage, direct extraction from surface water bodies, and extraction from groundwater wells. The major goal of municipal water suppliers is to provide safe and affordable water for residential, commercial, agricultural, and industrial uses. In rural localities, provision of safe public drinking water can pose a significant challenge, especially given financial and economic constraints inherent in small communities where economies of scale are limited. The costs of providing a distribution network for a small number of vastly dispersed customers may not be feasible, or even practical. Consequently, many rural residents rely on individual groundwater wells or small water systems operated by private businesses or public agencies. Many of these small systems depend on groundwater sources of water. Generally, groundwater is a clean and reliable source of water. However, groundwater contamination can pose a significant problem to well users and customers of community water systems that rely on groundwater. A contaminated and unsafe groundwater supply may take many years to become safe again, especially if dependent upon natural attenuation processes.

In an effort to ensure that public water systems meet minimum standards for safe drinking water, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974. The act has been amended several times, including most recently in 1996. The act requires all community water systems to meet minimum standards for drinking water quality. These standards can be made more stringent at the state level. Community water systems cannot meet minimum water quality standards without strong financial, managerial, and technical capacity according to the act. The 1996 amendments included provisions to assist water systems in enhancing their capacity to supply safe drinking water to their customers. Regulatory improvements along with greater flexibility at the state level, education and outreach programs for both water systems operators and customers, and new funding through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) strengthen the act and attempt to achieve the goals of the act while also assisting community water systems in reaching those goals.

The strengths of the SDWA Amendments of 1996 are categorized by US EPA (2000) as follows:

  • new and strong focus on preventing contamination and non-compliance
  • increased State flexibility
  • timely financial support
  • a new ethic of public awareness and participation.

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