Safe Drinking Water Act Essay

Cheap Custom Writing Service

This Safe Drinking Water Act Essay example is published for educational and informational purposes only. If you need a custom essay or research paper on this topic, please use our writing services. offers reliable custom essay writing services that can help you to receive high grades and impress your professors with the quality of each essay or research paper you hand in.

The safe drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974 is the primary U.S. federal law regulating the nation’s drinking water supply. SDWA applies to all public water systems. The SDWA is implemented through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) but enforcement is mostly delegated to individual states. SDWA sets thresholds or Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) for known and suspected drinking water contaminants. Additionally, SDWA put into place measures to assure that clean groundwater supplies remained uncontaminated. The original SDWA set MCLs for 21 contaminants but through subsequent revisions, the list has grown to over 80. Regulated contaminants include organic contaminants, pesticides, biological contaminants, inorganic compounds, and radionuclides.

SDWA rode the tide of major federal environmental legislation passed during the first half of the 1970s that began with President Nixon’s New Year’s Day signing of the National Environmental Policy Act in 1970 and, later that year, the establishment of the EPA. Public awareness of chemical toxins had been on the rise since the 1950s and by the 1970s, the American public was even more galvanized in its demands for regulations as synthetic toxins were increasingly linked to cancer. Nixon rode these existing public sentiments as he proclaimed the 1970s the “environmental decade” and later declared a national “war on cancer.” The link between toxins and drinking water came to the forefront after a 1972 federal study found 36 chemicals present in drinking water drawn from the Mississippi River in Louisiana.

The SDWA received major amendments in 1986 and 1996. In addition to adding dozens of new contaminants to the list of those regulated via MCLs, the 1986 amendments required disinfection of all public water supplies, added filtration requirements for all drinking water drawn from surface water sources, added new regulations to protect existing groundwater supplies from contamination, banned lead in water delivery system pipes and solder repairs, and laid out “best available technology” for treating each listed contaminant. The 1996 amendments streamlined the effectiveness of SDWA by establishing a method for setting priorities for contaminant regulations “based on data about the adverse health effects of the contaminant, the occurrence of the contaminant in public water systems, and the estimated reduction in health risk that would result from regulation.” The 1996 amendments also gave states greater flexibility in deciding how to meet the minimum standards set by the SDWA and established a loan program for infrastructural improvements targeting small water systems.

SDWA is often touted as an environmental policy success story as, for example, the percent of people served by water suppliers with zero SDWA violations approached 90 by the end of the 1990s. The SDWA is not, of course, without its critics. Many public health advocates and environmentalists, for example, advocate for a more precautionary approach that would set lower MCLs for contaminants for which hard data on adverse human health effects has been difficult to establish.


  1. Richard N.L. Andrews, Managing the Environment, Managing Ourselves: A History of American Environmental Policy (Yale University, 2006);
  2. Robert W. Collin, The Environmental Protection Agency: Cleaning Up America’s Act (Greenwood Press, 2006);
  3. S. Environmental Protection Agency, 25 Years of the Safe Drinking Water Act: History and Trends (U.S. EPA Office of Water, 1999).

See also:


Always on-time


100% Confidentiality

Special offer!