What’s In Your Water: The State of Public Notification in 11 U.S. States

Executive Summary

Our clean water is threatened by aging, overburdened sewer systems that overflow more than 860 billion gallons of raw and partially-treated sewage into our rivers and streams every year. Sewage spills threaten public health, spoil recreation, hinder economic values, and harm wildlife. As pipes age and the population grows, America’s overburdened wastewater infrastructure is breaking down with increasing frequency
and spreading this raw and partially-treated sewage throughout streams, rivers, lakes, and beaches across the country.

As soaring growth taxes existing infrastructure, and pipes and treatment facilities age, wastewater infrastructure needs have grown to the point that an investment of $390 billion is needed over the next 20 years to meet increasing demands. Until America faces this mounting problem by upgrading and maintaining sewer treatment systems, millions will continue to fall ill every year from exposure to sewage.

Knowledge must be the first line of defense to keep our friends, families, and pets safe. To minimize public health consequences, we must strengthen federal and state sewage overflow public notification requirements, so that Americans have the necessary information to protect themselves from a rising tide of sewage. Citizens have a fundamental right to know when their local streams, rivers, and lakes are unsafe for playing, swimming and fishing due to sewage pollution.

Federal public notification regulations for sewage spills and overflows are virtually nonexistent and only a handful of states have effectively corrected this shortcoming. While a federal law is much needed to set a consistent minimum standard for public notification, each state must ultimately craft its own regulations to warn the largest possible segment of its population of sewage contamination in local waterways.

Most states fall somewhere between these two extremes, with inadequate notification guidelines that are followed inconsistently throughout the state. In many states the effectiveness of public notification guidelines is greatly reduced by poor implementation and a lack of enforcement actions against treatment plants that fail to report spills.

This report provides an overview of federal public notification requirements and then assesses public notification regulations in 11 states to provide a snapshot of sewage right to know requirements.

Read the full report (PDF)