We recently honored the 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act by hosting a Toast to Tap event at CityCenter in downtown Washington, D.C. We were grateful for CityCenter providing the venue in a new park surrounded by both water fountains and city streets, and I was pleased to speak to the enthusiastic crowd that assembled to celebrate this important milestone.
The site was especially fitting for me, because the CityCenter development plan presented such an interesting water issue when it came before me when I was Director of the District Department of the Environment (DDOE). The folks at City Center wanted to recycle stormwater captured on-site and use it for a variety of purposes – watering plants and other green features and perhaps in HVAC. This was a first for us, and we had to decide how clean this water needed to be – if it was not going to be used for drinking water.
Drinking water standards are hard to achieve without sophisticated treatment facilities. The standards are tough, are subject to change if new threats are identified, and diligently enforced.
Safe drinking water is one of a handful of prerequisite services for a modern civilization’s existence. And in the United States, it is taken for granted that our water supply is clean and safeguarded from harm. Although we should celebrate such an achievement in water quality, we should also take time to celebrate such an achievement—Cool and refreshing water ready at the tap, for pennies on the gallon, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) stands at the center of this success. Signed into law 40 years ago this December, the SDWA is remarkable in its scope and vision. In one sense, it covers all sources of drinking water. Whether water is coming from surface waters or groundwater, the SDWA establishes standards that must be met before it is delivered for human use. In another sense, it covers everything from source to tap. Not only does it establish a comprehensive range of standards to monitor and ensure the safety of drinking water delivered to the tap, but it also requires source water protection to protect water before it comes into the treatment system.
The concept of end-of-pipe monitoring and source water protection based on watersheds of surface water and groundwater is a visionary, elegant, and most important—effective idea.
I was pleased to join the men and women from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that manage the drinking water program to honor this historic milestone along with leaders from the utilities that deliver safe drinking water to the region—Tom Jacobus from the Washington Aqueduct and Chuck Murray from Fairfax Water to name a few.
While we all recognize there are always new challenges to overcome—pharmaceuticals for example—we can also highlight when government, acting at the request of all of us through our elected representatives passing laws, has got it right. Following their lead, the rest of us in the water profession are proud to deliver on the promise of the Safe Drinking Water Act – 40 years under our belt and more to come!