GAO: States underreporting violations of drinking-water standards

Using data EPA collected from 14 states in 2009, GAO found that the states misreported or underreported 26 percent of health-related violations and 84 percent of monitoring violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act. GAO’s findings echo those of the EPA.

“The data states reported to EPA for measuring compliance with health and monitoring requirements of [the Safe Drinking Water Act] did not reliably reflect the number of health-based and monitoring violations that community water systems have committed or the status of enforcement actions,” the report says.

GAO, the government’s internal watchdog, said that the underreporting is a result of “inadequate training, staffing, and guidance, and inadequate funding to conduct those activities.”

The lack of accurate data prevents EPA from identifying those cities and towns that have the most violations enforcing federal standards, GAO said.

“In addition, unreliable data quality impedes EPA’s ability to monitor and report progress toward a strategic objective of reducing exposure to contaminants in drinking water,” the report said.

GAO recommends that EPA resume its auditing process to identify underreporting. The agency halted its audit program in 2010 because of a lack of funding.

The repot also calls on the agency to establish reporting goals with states and consider reworking its performance measures to underscore the health risks of contaminated water.

The GAO report was released Tuesday by Waxman and Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and John Dingell (D-Mich.).