The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) distributed the enclosed policy document “COVID-19 Implications for EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance Assurance Program.” (EPA Enforcement and COVID-19) The policy addresses several environmental programs and will apply retroactively beginning on March 13, 2020. EPA states “Authorized states or tribes may take a different approach under their own authorities.” Copied below is EPA’s text (see page 6, section E) regarding enforcement under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
“Public water systems regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act
“Public water systems have a heightened responsibility to protect public health because unsafe drinking water can lead to serious illnesses and access to clean water for drinking and handwashing is critical during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, the EPA has heightened expectations for public water systems. The EPA expects operators of such systems to continue normal operations and maintenance as well as required sampling to ensure the safety of our drinking water supplies. The EPA expects laboratories performing analysis for water systems to continue to provide timely analysis of samples and results. States play the lead role on drinking water issues, but the EPA also has important drinking water enforcement and oversight responsibilities, including direct implementation responsibilities in some locations.
“In the event of worker shortages in the water sector, the EPA will consider continued operation of drinking water systems to be the highest priority. In anticipation of worker shortage and laboratory capacity problems, the EPA considers the following tiers of compliance monitoring to assure the safety of our drinking water supplies and prioritize prevention of acute risks. Of highest priority is monitoring required under National Primary Drinking Water Regulations to protect against microbial pathogens. Additional priorities include nitrate/nitrite and Lead and Copper Rule monitoring followed by contaminants for which the system has been non-compliant. States may wish to adopt similar priorities.
“The EPA is working closely with our federal partners, states, and other organizations to ensure resources and personnel are available to assist facilities facing staffing and contractor challenges during this period of COVID-19 response and the Office of Water plans to launch a website with this information. Accordingly, the EPA strongly encourages public water systems to consult with the state and EPA regional offices without delay if issues arise that prevent the normal delivery of safe drinking water and encourages states to continue to work closely with the EPA on measures to address the potential impacts of COVID-19. The EPA also encourages certified drinking water laboratories to consult with the state and the EPA if issues arise that prevent laboratories from conducting analyses of drinking water contaminants.
“The EPA will consider the circumstances, including the COVID-19 pandemic, when determining whether any enforcement response is appropriate at public water systems acting in accordance with this subpart.”