Small Drinking Water System Initiative
Reliable, safe, high quality drinking water is essential to sustaining our communities. Approximately 90% of New England's drinking water systems - about 10,000 systems - are small and most use ground water sources. Small systems provide drinking water to less than 3,300 people and very small systems provide it to less than 500 people. Small systems have unique challenges as they may have limited financial resources compared to larger systems; lack full-time staff to manage the system; be geographically isolated; have limited computer capabilities; and have less technical training.
This web page provides links to many basic tools for a variety of technical, managerial, and financial needs common to small drinking water systems.
What is EPA Doing to Help Small Systems?
How is EPA Helping Small Systems to...?
- Hire an Operator and Maintain the Workforce
- Take Samples
- Protect Drinking Water from Contamination
- Prepare and Respond to Emergencies
- Understand the Water System Operations
- Comply with Regulations
- Conserve Water
- Manage Assets
- Set User Rates
- Get Help
Hire an Operator and Maintain the Workforce
Operator Certification: All drinking water systems must comply with their State's operator certification requirements. This is critical to ensure that water systems 1) meet drinking water standards and protect public health; 2) provide safe, potable drinking water; 3) build confidence that the water is safe; and 4) understand the potential health impacts of their water. For more information, see Information for Operators.
Green Jobs: The emerging need for people to enter the drinking water workforce is well represented in the production "Water You Waiting For?" This twelve-minute video showcases the water profession for high school and/or vocational technical school students. This video covers the value of water, job responsibilities, career successes, and public health protection.
EPA Region 1 has also produced "Promoting Green Jobs for the Water Sector" (pdf) (278 K).
Roles & Responsibilities: Clearly defining owner and operator responsibilities will lead to better communication and more effective management of the water system. For more information, see "Water System Operator Roles Responsibilities: A Best Practice Guide".
Sampling Guide for Small Systems: Under an EPA grant, the New England Water Works Association produced a sampling guide named "Pocket Sampling Guide for Operators of Small Water Systems (pdf)" (2.6 MB). Often it is difficult for small systems to understand and properly complete all required drinking water monitoring. This guide includes specific instructions on how to take samples at all types of small drinking water systems regardless of the service population and water source (ground or surface).
Pocket Sampling Guide for Operators of Very Small Water Systems - A "How to Sample" Guide for Transient Non-Community Water Systems (pdf) (628 K): Under a separate EPA grant with New England Water Works Association, the above guide was modified to produce a simpler, more streamlined version that describes only the sampling requirements specific to very small systems that are not supplied by a community well, do not chlorinate, use only ground water, and serve a transient popultion (not the same people on a daily basis). Examples of these systems include restaurants, gas stations, motels, and ski resorts.
Protect Drinking Water from Contamination
A central concern for all drinking water providers is to avoid contamination of drinking water sources. Here are some documents to assist water systems in this endeavor.
Pocket Guide: USEPA's "A Pocket Guide to Protecting Your Drinking Water" is available online.
Protect sources: Drinking water source protection is the responsibility of many local officials. The New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission has developed a booklet titled "Tools for local officials" that focuses on five key areas of vulnerability identified in New England state source water assessments - 1) inadequate local regulations and ordinances; 2) underground storage tanks; 3) onsite sewage disposal systems; 4) hazardous materials storage; and 5) stormwater runoff.
Prepare and Respond to Emergencies
EPA New England top ten security preparedness list for small ground water systems: This a top ten list for small groundwater systems.
Drinking water and disaster response/preparedness: This webpage links to a variety of fact sheets in responding to disasters. This includes What to Do After the Flood: EPA has posted a fact sheet describing what a small water system should do after any flood.
Plan for the future and unexpected natural events: In case of power loss, backup generators are critical to keeping a drinking water system in operation. For more information, see "Is Your Water or Wastewater System Prepared?: What You need to Know About Generators".
Understand Water System Operations
Strategic Planning: EPA has developed a document titled "A Handbook for Small Water Systems". This is designed to help owners and operators of water systems serving 3,300 people or fewer to learn about the strategic planning process and develop a strategic plan.
Water quality in small community distribution systems: USEPA has developed a reference guide to assist operators and managers of small public water systems. It presents a compilation of information designed to provide small water utility operators with a comprehensive picture of water distribution system networks.
Educate Public Officials and Water Boards: Small systems often lack both the financial and human resources to plan for the future and address on-going maintenance issues. Community and water board support is necessary to gain the support for increased resources. For more information on educating and communicating these groups, see Small Utility Board Training.
Drinking Water Handbook for Public Officials is an excellent guide on the basics of a water system.
Talking to Your Decision Makers: A Best Practices Guide will help you to better understand the drinking water system decision making process.
Comply with Regulations
Meeting Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regulations: A document titled "Small System Guide to Safe Drinking Water Act Regulations".
Treatment Technologies to Meet the Safe Drinking Water Act Requirements: USEPA has created a document titled "Small Drinking Water Systems: State of the Industry and Treatment Technologies to Meet the Safe Drinking Water Act Requirements". This document summarizes the many types of treatment that are available for small systems.
Total Coliform Rule (TCR): This rule applies to all public drinking water systems. EPA has developed several guides to help small water systems comply with the rule.
A Small Systems Guide to the TCR: This guide is for water systems that serve communities or subsets of communities such as a mobile home park or homeowners association.
TCR: A Handbook for Small Noncommunity Water Systems serving less than 3,300 persons: This guide is for public water systems such as restaurants, parks, churches, hospitals, schools, factories, offices, and daycare centers.
Ground Water Rule (GWR): There are many regulations related to drinking water. The newest regulation is the Groundwater Rule, which is affecting many small systems. View document summarizing the rule or see EPA's Ground Water Rule webpage.
All drinking water rules: USEPA has one comprehensive website that contains links to basic information on a variety of drinking water rules.
Consumer Confidence Reports: Community water systems are public water systems that have at least 15 service connections or regularly serve at least 25 year-round residents, and these must create and distribute a consumer confidence report each year.
WaterSense: This is a program designed to help protect the future of our nation's water supply by promoting water efficiency and enhancing the market for water efficient products, programs, and practices.
Asset Management Tools and Training: An important component of operating a water system is planning for future infrastructure needs, including the purchase of new equipment and the maintenance of existing equipment. Asset management is a way to inventory and analyze current assets and plan adequately for their care and replacement. A document titled "Asset Management: A Handbook for Small Water Systems" presents asset management basic concepts and provides the tools to develop an asset management plan.
Asset Inventory: USEPA has also produced a guide titled "Taking Stock of your Water System: A Simple Asset Inventory for Very Small Drinking Water Systems".
Check Up Program for Small Systems (CUPSS): USEPA has developed software called "CUPSS," which is a free, easy to use asset management tool for small drinking water and wastewater utilities. CUPSS provides a simple and comprehensive approach to developing a record of assets, a schedule of required tasks, an understanding of a water system financial situation, and a tailored asset management plan. The CUPSS software is free.
Best practices: USEPA has produced a best practices guide for asset management.
Asset management guide for local officials: This fact sheet provides information to help local officials successfully implement an asset management program.
Set User Rates
Rate Setting: It is often challenging for drinking water systems to set rates that generate enough funds to cover current operations, and even more difficult to provide for a financially secure future. USEPA has developed a guide designed to help owners, operators, and managers of small water systems understand the full cost of providing a safe and adequate supply of drinking water, and to set water rates that reflect those costs.
A guide titled "Sources of Technical and Financial Assistance for Small Drinking Water Systems" is available to help water systems get started in addressing various issues and challenges.
EPA produced a document titled "Handbook on Coordinating Funding for Water and Wastewater Infrastructure". This Compilation of State approaches could help systems better understand the benefits and challenges of coordinating funding efforts.
Many states have developed informational materials specifically for operating small drinking water systems; explore the following websites or call the state's drinking water program directly:
- Connecticut: (860) 509-7333
- Maine: (207) 287-2070
- Massachusetts: (617) 292-5770
- New Hampshire: (603) 271-2513
- Rhode Island: (401) 222-6867
- Vermont: 802-241-3400; Toll-free in Vermont: 800-823-6500
How Can I Receive Further Information?
For additional information: Call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791 or visit the EPA Ground Water and Drinking Water website. For New England specific information, contact Jeff Butensky (management and financial questions), (617) 918-1665 / email@example.com or Denise Springborg (technical questions) at (617) 918-1681 / firstname.lastname@example.org