Memo from Jay Rutherford, Director, Water Supply Division to Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg, early 2003


1. The most critical and fundamental issue this division faces is the lack of adequate staffing to meet the public’s and elected officials’ expectations for our oversight program. Credible analyses of the division’s federal and state mandated work show that we have between one-third to one-half the needed staff to provide the expected (and needed) levels of public health protection. Due to other department priorities, we have been unable to maintain even the staff we had three years ago, in spite of a much greater workload from the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act amendments. Some other issues below stem from this most critical one.

2. The 1996 amendments to the federal Safe Drinking Water Act were major in their scope and complexity. The act focused on some challenging contaminants (e.g., arsenic, disinfection by-products) and changed the nature of oversight. We have been thrust into consulting” roles with our water systems, water systems are having to address a large number of federal regulations that have been, and continue to be, promulgated from the 1996 amendments. There have been, or will be, seventeen significant federal regulations promulgated since 1996. We are now beginning to administer the most complex of these, which are the microbial rules that address enhanced surface water filtration as well as disinfection by-products. Later this year, the federal Groundwater rule will be finalized, which will affect virtually all of our groundwater-based public water systems, from the largest community system to the smallest restaurant.

3. We have been unable to regulate the entire community of 1,400 public water systems. For example, we have very little active regulation of at least 800 transient, non-community (“TNCs”—hotels, motels, delicatessens, etc.) water systems. Although they are required to have operating permits, we have only issued operating permits to a handful of these systems. As we have begun to track non-compliance by TNC systems, they have placed enormous demands on us for technical assistance, which we are largely unable to meet.

4. While we are adept at crisis management to keep our program under reasonably credible control, there is a level of health protection expected by the public, which our resource limitations prevent us from meeting. This limitation on what we can do occasionally surfaces when problems occur with a water system and the customers or the press point out, after reviewing the history, how we have failed to provide the expected oversight. Without additional resources, this aspect of the program will continue.

5. We have a suggested bill (approved by the administration) to modify the qualifying criteria for obtaining subsidized loans, in response to the 2000 census disqualifying some systems from receiving a disadvantaged status. We should discuss this bill before my going to testify on it, or seek a sponsor.

6. The drought of the past two years has affected a large number of Vermonters. We have had as many as 30 small public community systems out of water or on restrictions at various times, but the impact on private citizens has been significantly greater. We do not have direct oversight of private water supplies (the Health Department provides technical assistance), but because we regulate licensed well drillers, have considerable amounts of anecdotal information that shows the problem is a serious one. There is no state program to provide assistance to these citizens, and only a meager federal one managed by the USDA.

7. Following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, public water systems have been identified as national Critical Infrastructure. As such, we have had to divert our meager resources to address security issues at our public water systems. Last year, we had seven break-ins to finished water storage that required enormous responses and inconvenience to the water systems’ customers. In addition to working with the affected municipalities, we have coordinated closely with the Department of Health, Department of Public Safety, and the Emergency Management Division. All the attacks to date appear to have been “elementary vandalism” but our responses have been much more comprehensive in response to what could have been much more serious.

8. In a related issue, 34 of our public water systems (those serving more than 3,300 people) are required to perform vulnerability assessments and to develop emergency response plans. The remaining 406 systems, all very small, are “recommended” to perform these activities, but not mandated. The burden of addressing this large majority of our public systems has fallen on us to do or to ignore. We do have a new position dedicated to security issues.

9. We are required by EPA to complete source water assessments for all of our public water systems, all 1,400 of them. The allowed time frame in the SDWA is May 6, 2003. We will not come close to meeting this deadline, due to staffing shortages over the past two years. We anticipate completing 85% of community systems, 70% of non-transient systems, but only 5% of the transient systems. EPA is aware of our problems with completing this work.