Safe Drinking Water Act

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the main federal law which pertains to drinking water quality. It first passed in 1974 and took effect on June 25, 1977. It was amended in 1986 and again in 1996.

The SWDA directs the EPA to set national, health-based standards, known as the National Primary Drinking Water Standards, to protect the public from natural and man-made contaminants in drinking water. The states are then responsible for making certain that these standards are met by all water systems that serve 25 or more people. (Note: the states must apply for "primacy," or the right to adopt standards at least as stringent as the EPA's and then enforce them. Every state but Wyoming has done so.)

The 1996 amendments provided more money for operator training and system improvements and placed a new emphasis on source water protection, requiring that every state examine existing and potential threats to the quality of all public water supplies. The states were also directed to develop a Source Water Assessment Program (SWAP).

The 1996 amendments led to a more holistic approach that has resulted in better water resource management. Instead of focusing solely on water treatment, emphasis was placed on preventing contamination. Public education, land acquisition, and development of zoning ordinances were all recognized as valuable tools for protecting drinking water sources. As the population grows and suburban sprawl becomes a major issue, preservation of water quality requires active planning.

Source water protection planning helps communities understand the interrelationship between a single drinking water source, other sources in the area, and potential contamination sources within a landscape. This perspective leads to better overall planning for the community. For information on VRWA's Source Protection Services, click here.

To check on current legislation that affects water and wastewater systems, see our Legislation Watch.

Click here for the full text of the 1996 amendments to the SDWA.

For information on the Clean Water Act, which regulates discharges of pollutants into surface waters and surface water quality, click here.