Deregulation on water notice sinks in committee
A bill that would deregulate Warwick’s water suppliers by removing a yearly reporting requirement got no further than a House committee due to a conflict with current federal law.
Newly introduced amendments, which were held for further study by the House Municipal Government Committee on June 6, would have no longer required Warwick's public water suppliers to send yearly consumer confidence reports (CCRs) to approximately 31,400 customers, saving the city a total of around $15,000 on print and postage.
Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian provided the cost figure in an emailed statement, adding, “We asked for relief from this mandate since it costs about $15,000. We were hoping to post it online to save money.”
In 2011, the city mailed out nearly 27,000 reports and put a digital copy online.
Daniel P. O’Rourke, Warwick Water division chief, says that while the reports constitute a large expense to the Water Division, “federal regulations would supercede state regulations,” in a statement over the phone.
While unsupportive of the current mandate, O’Rourke points out how present safeguards ensure that customers must be promptly notified of water quality concerns in other ways.
“If we had to publicly notify of positive results, we’d usually [alert the public] through the media or Internet, or by directly contacting the people who would be impacted,” said O’Rourke.
According to a spokeswoman, the Kent County Water Authority will continue to follow the federal regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The proposed deregulation would save on costs as well as “quite a few trees,” Rep. Joseph McNamara (D-Dist. 19), who introduced the legislation, said yesterday.
By cutting the cost of CCRs from the Warwick budget, Rep. McNamara hoped to remove a burden on the public put in place by the federal regulations.
“We want to make the reports accessible, however, it’s just another unfounded federal mandate. There are more efficient ways to notify people in this digital era.”
The EPA requires the distribution of CCRs, granted that the population exceeds 10,000 year-round users. The mandate was established by 1996 amendments made to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), and applies to all public water systems in the United States.
McNamara’s bill encountered resistance from the environmental protection lobby, an effort spearheaded by State Director for Clean Water Action Jamie Rhodes.
Passage of the amendment would mean more work for Warwick’s residents, and a lower degree of public disclosure, according to Rhodes.
“[Getting a CCR] would be transformed into a three-step process – and the first step is always the hardest. There has to be awareness that these reports actually exist, finding out where these reports are published and then actually retrieving them,” Rhodes said in an interview. “This would mean that the residents would have to seek out these reports by going online or visiting the mayor’s office, library or a water authority.”
Rhodes also points out that the deregulation would also mean a lower degree of transparency on the part of suppliers, and less accountability.
“From Clean Water Action’s perspective, the requirement for public disclosure is necessary to let the water authorities know that somebody’s watching. By not having to send out these reports, we lose that public disclosure,” Rhodes said.
Warnings about contaminant levels in public water can only be found in yearly CCRs or press releases.
CCRs outline levels of contaminants measured by the water supplier in the public water supply, compare the levels to the EPA's health-based standards, and pinpoint the likely source of the contaminant.
If levels violate those standards, information on the potential health risks posed in such an event must also be provided. More detailed protocol for Warwick's water suppliers can be found at warwickri.gov and kentcountywater.org.
A 2011-2012 CCR released by the Kent County Water Authority outlined its own drinking water standard violation, where in a three-month period between July and October 2011 it did no tests for nitrate or di-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP). The violation posed no danger to Kent's customers, and tests indicated that no contaminant levels exceeded standards.