Water System Restructuring Assessment Rule Could Encourage Regionalization Efforts

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) is proposing a Water System Restructuring Rule, which outlines a framework for States, public water systems, and the communities they serve to evaluate options for restructuring to help ensure safe, reliable drinking water. Water system restructuring changes may include operational changes, upgrades to or replacement of water system infrastructure, interconnection with another system, consolidation, or transfer of ownership.

The proposed rule also would allow States to require an assessment of a water system and would establish incentives for water systems to identify options and submit restructuring plans, particularly systems that regularly fail to meet the requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

The posed regulation includes three main elements:

  1. New mandatory assessment authority for States.
  2. Requirements for implementing an assessment.
  3. Incentives for water systems to restructure.

Suggested incentives include eligibility to use Drinking Water State Revolving Funds to implement the restructuring, protection under SDWA from previous enforcement actions for up to two years, and protection from fines or penalties for compliant water systems that consolidate with or acquire non-compliant water systems.

In addition to the regulatory requirements established by the proposed rule, USEPA included three guiding principles of restructuring that would help ensure mandatory assessments and restructuring plans are the result of collaborative efforts between States, local authorities, water utilities, and community leaders. The principles include:

  • Evaluate restructuring alternatives based on the needs of the community.
  • Engage affected communities directly in restructuring decision making.
  • Ensure community capacity to make affordable investments in safe drinking water.

USEPA is accepting public comments on the proposed regulation through July 29, 2024 on the Federal Register.