Drinking Water/Waste Water

Drinking Water

Public drinking water in Pennsylvania is regulated by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Groundwater and Drinking Water and PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Bureau of Safe Drinking Water. Public drinking water is obtained from surface and ground waters and treated to remove organic, inorganic, and biological contaminants as well as sediment. Private water wells are not regulated by the state but DEP has information for homeowners.

Source Water Protection

EPA and DEP work to protect drinking water sources to ensure everyone has access to clean, potable water through the public drinking system. Though the agencies do this by monitoring untreated surface and ground waters that serve as sources of public drinking water, also known as source water, the primary initiative is to assist drinking water utilities and local community stakeholders to develop and implement a local Source Water Protection Plan. EPA’s Source Water Assessment and Protection Program has a framework for prevention measures to protect source water including:

  1. Delineate the source water protection area (SWPA).
  2. Inventory known and potential sources of contamination.
  3. Determine the susceptibility of the public water system (PWS) to containment sources or activities within the SWPA.
  4. Notify the public about threats indentified in the contaminant source inventory and what they mean to the PWS.
  5. Implement management measures to prevent, reduce, or eliminate risks to your drinking water supply.
  6. Develop contingency planning strategies that address water supply contamination or service interruption emergencies.

EPA has more information on conducting source water assessments. In Pennsylvania, source water protection is voluntary. DEP has more information on source water protection and ground water protection in the Commonwealth.

Asset Management

Asset management is a process to plan for infrastructure maintenance and replacement with time and budget in mind. EPA and DEP both have guidance on this planning process including a framework and steps for creating an asset management plan for your utility.

EPA Asset Management Core Questions:

  1. What is the current state of my assets?
  2. What is my required “sustainable” level of service?
  3. Which assets are critical to sustained performance?
  4. What are my minimum life-cycle costs?
  5. What is my best long-term funding strategy?

DEP Asset Management Steps:

  1. Identify an Asset Management (AM) team
  2. Conduct an asset inventory
  3. Determine the condition and value of all assets
  4. Complete a criticality assessment
  5. Evaluate maintenance management
  6. Determine renewal/replacement needs
  7. Develop a financial plan

Several organizations offer free assistance for asset management including US EPA (CUPSS – Check Up Program for Small Systems), PA DEP (Capability Enhancement Program), RCAP Solutions, and the Environmental Finance Center Network (EFCN).

Asset management is not only for drinking water systems – it can also be applied to all infrastructures such as waste water, stormwater, and transportation. See a case study of a stormwater asset management program from the City of Grand Rapids, MI.

The EPA Water System Partnerships website provides many useful, interactive, and cooperative tools to address drinking water challenges. PA DEP also provides various resources and training for suppliers through the Earthwise Portal. For more resources on relevant organizations, funding sources, newsletters, and training, visit our Drinking Water/Waste Water Resources page.

Waste Water

Waste water is regulated in Pennsylvania by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Office of Waste Water Management and PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Bureau of Clean Water. Waste water is primarily regulated at treatment plants through National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits, which are given to sewer providers to discharge treated waste water into surface waters.

Combined Sanitary-Storm Sewer

Many older cities have combined sanitary-storm sewers, meaning that during dry weather, both sanitary waste and stormwater are collected together and treated at wastewater treatment plants before discharging into a stream. During wet weather though, excess untreated sewage and stormwater is discharged into nearby streams through overflow structures. It is a major goal of the EPA to address this problem of raw sewage flowing directly into our waterways to meet the requirements of the Clean Water Act. Read more about how sewage ends up in rivers from 3 Rivers Wet Weather and American Rivers.

Act 537 Sewage Facilities Planning

The Pennsylvania Sewage Facilities Act (Act 537) was passed in 1966 to “help address existing sewage disposal needs, and to help prevent future problems through the proper planning, permitting, and design of all types of sewage facilities,” (DEP). Act 537 Plans are developed by municipalities to address existing sewage disposal problems and plan for future sewage needs. This plan is revised when there is new land development that will require sewage services. More information on Act 537 plans can be found on DEP’s website and in A Guide for Preparing a Municipal Act 537 Plan Update Revision (DEP).

Explore Relevant Organizations, Funding Sources, and Training

Drinking Water/Waste Water Resources