News release: 40th anniversary of federal Safe Drinking Water Act observed during Safe Drinking Water Week in Minnesota

News Release
May 5, 2014

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40th anniversary of federal Safe Drinking Water Act observed during Safe Drinking Water Week in Minnesota

New video, annual report recognize impact of landmark federal legislation

With the declaration of May 4-10 as Safe Drinking Water Week in Minnesota by Gov. Mark Dayton, the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) is urging all Minnesotans to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

The significance of this national landmark legislation is the theme of the MDH annual report on the status of drinking water in the state and the subject of a video produced by MDH on the Act. The video features former Minnesota Governor Al Quie and Vice President Walter Mondale, who were members of Congress when SDWA was enacted. It is on the MDH YouTube channel at:

"Water and air don't respect state boundaries," Mondale says in the video, explaining the importance of the federal law. "Minnesota was probably the best in the country, but many states were not doing a good job. Americans couldn't be sure of safe drinking water, and the '74 Act that we passed was designed to use the power of the federal government to provide leadership and funding to help states do the job."

"Water travels across state lines," Quie elaborated, "and to leave it to each state, then how horrible it would be if Minnesota, for instance, would not have pure water . . . That's our responsibility as citizens of this nation."

Appearances in the video by the commissioners of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and MDH point out the need for collaboration between state agencies as well as other private and public organizations. MPCA Commissioner John Linc Stine emphasized the need for prevention in protecting drinking water supplies. "Prevention is the most cost-effective strategy we have in cleaning up our water resources."

Minnesota's legacy

Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger cited the importance of the 2008 Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment, which sets aside resources to protect drinking water. "It's an investment for the future while we work today to protect things for our children, our grandchildren, and our great-grandchildren," said Ehlinger. "Minnesota has been forward-looking in terms of environmental issues."

The passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) marked the first time a national set of regulations and standards was established to include all public-water suppliers in the United States. The Act directed the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency to develop health-based standards for a number of contaminants-both naturally occurring and those that result from human and animal activity-that may be found in drinking water supplies. The Act affects all water systems that serve water to the public (in general, to more than 25 people on a regular basis) in the United States, all U. S. territories and commonwealths and tribal reservations. It does not apply to private wells or bottled water.

Before the Act, Minnesota already had strong regulations in place to protect drinking water, including rules requiring submission and approval of plans for public water supplies, a state plumbing code and prohibitions of cross connections between potable and non-potable water supplies, training and licensing of water operators, and annual inspections of public water supplies in the state. SDWA extended these safeguards and more across the country.

Annual report

The 2013 annual report on drinking water also includes the results of monitoring done in the past year on Minnesota's 958 community water systems. Samples from these systems were subjected to nearly 18,000 separate tests for more than 100 potential contaminants. The vast majority of community water systems have met all the requirements of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

None of the systems exceeded current federal or state standards for pesticides or industrial contaminants. Bacterial contamination was detected in only five municipal systems. Contamination problems in those systems were quickly resolved, and normal water service was restored in the affected communities, typically within a week.

The report includes test results for 730 city water systems throughout the state. Also included were 2,228 non-municipal systems that provide drinking water to people in their place of residence - in locations such as manufactured home parks, apartment buildings, housing subdivisions, colleges, hospitals, prisons, and child care facilities.

Among the other highlights of the report:

  • Detectable levels of coliform bacteria were found in 13 community water systems, including 8 municipal systems. While not all coliform bacteria cause illness, they provide an indicator of possible contamination in the system. Systems with coliform problems are routinely disinfected, flushed, and retested to ensure that the contamination is gone before being returned to normal service. The process typically takes less than a week.
  • While several cities in Minnesota continue to wrestle with arsenic in their groundwater, the vast majority of municipal drinking water systems in the state report few problems. By the end of 2013, 7 community water systems, including 5 municipal systems, still exceeded the standard for arsenic. These systems are working with MDH to come into compliance and are also communicating regularly with their residents about the situation.
  • Seven municipal systems exceeded the standard for radium 226 and 228 at the end of 2013. No restrictions were placed on water consumption, although residents were notified. They were told it was not an emergency and were advised to consult with their doctors if they had any special concerns. Each of these systems has either started to make infrastructure changes or is studying alternatives to meet the maximum contaminant level.
  • No community water systems exceeded the standard for nitrate in 2013.

While utilities treat the water to ensure its safety, and the Minnesota Department of Health, following the safeguards set by SDWA, inspects water systems and samples the treated water, all Minnesotans need to understand the importance of ensuring safe water, Ehlinger said. "Everyone plays a role in guarding the safety of our water and making sure investments are made to keep it safe," he said. "Our decisions, from the personal care products we use to how we manage land for industry and agriculture, can have major impacts on our drinking water."

The 2013 report is available online at


Media inquiries:

Doug Schultz
MDH Communications