The Power of Information

National Drinking Water Database

National Drinking Water Database - Recommendations


December 2009

The cost of providing clean drinking water is high and will only increase if current policies continue.

According to industry estimates, the nation's water utilities spend $50 billion a year on drinking water treatment (Frost & Sullivan 2007; Reuters 2007). As the U.S. infrastructure ages, much more money will be needed simply to ensure that water suppliers can continue to meet current drinking water standards. A recent EPA report to Congress found that the total nationwide infrastructure need is $334.8 billion for the next 20 years (EPA 2009p). This investment would not improve tap water quality since these expenditures are largely those required simply to maintain, repair and replace existing infrastructure (EPA 2009p).

The public doesn't trust the water: Americans drink twice as much bottled water today as they did ten years ago, for an annual total of more than 9 billion gallons and producer revenues nearing $12 billion (Beverage Marketing Corporation 2007; IBWA 2008), in part because of the belief that water from the tap isn't safe. We pay for our water twice, once at the tap and once in a bottle. We have, in essence, created a system with an economic divide, where those who can afford it buy bottled, and those who cannot drink it from the tap. Tap water should be safe for everyone to drink.

In light of the findings of this study, which show that drinking water in states is contaminated with more than unregulated chemicals that lack legal limits, EWG recommends the following:

  • EPA should construct and maintain a national database of tap water quality testing that is accessible to consumers.

  • EPA should greatly expand requirements for testing unregulated contaminants. EPA and Congress should provide support for utilities to get that testing done.

  • The Safe Drinking Water Act's Consumer Confidence Report rule should be updated so as to require complete disclosure of all detected contaminants in drinking water.

  • EPA should set health-protective standards for chemicals that are currently unregulated but present in tap water.

  • Source water protection programs should be significantly expanded, including efforts to prevent or reduce pollution of source waters, and efforts to conserve land in buffer zones around public water supplies. Financial support for these efforts is crucial.

  • Federal laws and policies should be reformed to ensure that vulnerable populations, including pregnant women and children, are protected from chemical pollution of food, water and the environment, especially with respect to drinking water.