Kristina Hartley, Technical Assistance Program, Midwest Assistance Program
In America, every state and territory is home to a regulatory agency with oversight and administrative authority over public drinking water systems. These state agencies are held to standards set by the federal government and charged with enforcement through the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Consumers see their water purveyors as a trusted authority and rely on their utility companies to provide reliable, affordable services. Unfortunately, utility providers are not always in sync with their customer base. In order to secure their consumer’s confidence, utility providers need to consider the specific needs of their communities, gauge challenges, and incorporate best practices to meet customer satisfaction.
According to the EPA, more than 97% of the nation’s over 148,000 public water systems are small systems, meaning they serve 10,000 or fewer people. A public water system (PWS) is a system that provides potable water for consumption to at least 25 people or 15 service connections for at least 60 days a year. These water systems include municipalities, special districts, homeowner associations, campgrounds , and other kinds of facilities. Access to clean and safe water does not always come easily or affordably. Infrastructure is an expensive investment. Small water systems face unique challenges including the need for economic capital to sustainably provide safe drinking water. This has become evident through a number of high-profile water crisis issues such as Flint, Michigan , and other cases where hydraulic fracking fluid is contaminating drinking water wells.
In order to guarantee that the drinking water being consumed is safe, the EPA developed a tool called the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) Rule, 63 FR 44511. This report requires mandatory annual reporting to be completed by every public drinking water system and distributed to their customers by the first of July. The CCR also referred to as an annual water quality report, is an integral part of a purveyor’s delivery of information to the consumer.
A CCR will contain water system information including:
The CCR Rule normally requires each water system to mail or directly deliver one copy of its CCR to each customer. In addition, the facility must try to reach customers not individually billed, for example, non-metered customers or apartment dwellers. A utility may also publish the CCR in a local newspaper. Much the same as mailing a copy of the CCR, electronic (e-mailed) delivery must furnish the CCR in a manner that bears the effort of being direct. The EPA translates this CCR Rule requirement to mean that water systems may use a billing statement with a prominently displayed banner and a website address (or URL) directed to the CCR, to meet the CCR delivery requirement. The water purveyor must also, annually, provide a contact name and phone number for a customer to request a paper copy of the CCR. For more information regarding the CCR requirements, please refer to the EPA’s website.