While small and rural systems might have more costs, Keegan said the revision is a good thing because they will face fewer violations. Smaller systems have historically had more violations due to lack of money, staffing and other resources, he said.
According to the EPA, about 86 percent of small system violations are for record-keeping failures. Keegan said total coliform notices for the state and public cause many violations – with few health benefits. “It gives a lot of our smaller communities and rural areas a false impression about the safety of their water,” he said.
EPA officials were unavailable to comment. But an agency analysis suggests that smaller systems will see the most improvement in water quality.
The agency expects the rule will result in fewer infections and illnesses but didn’t estimate the decreases.
The estimated $14-million increase in costs will be largely shouldered by smaller systems, according to large providers. The cost increase is mostly due to the need to investigate and fix when total coliform shows up.
“It would take a lot of tainted samples (with total coliform) for us to have to investigate,” said Ricardo De Leon, a microbiology unit at the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California. “And even if we did, we have the manpower to do it.”
J.C. Davis, a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said it would have no impact at all on their system. “I don’t think we’ve ever had a month where we’ve exceeded total coliforms,” he said.
Violations involving E. coli have totaled about 500 or 600 a year, according to EPA data, while violations for total coliform have consistently exceeded 5,000 annually.
The revisions signed by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, who will resign the post later this month, mark the first changes to the original rule. Utilities have until April 1, 2016, to comply.
This article originally ran at Environmental Health News, a news source published by Environmental Health Sciences, a nonprofit media company.