State and Federal Drinking Water Regulations and Support

Rhode Island state agencies and the U.S. EPA have a long record of working together to protect Rhode Island's public drinking water supplies. The following summary describes only a few of the key monitoring, planning, and regulatory programs in place to safeguard water supplies.

At the Federal Level

The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed by Congress in 1974. The Act authorizes the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to determine standards for drinking water, in an effort to protect public health from the numerous naturally-occuring and manmade threats to water supplies. While the Act initially focussed on water treatment, amendments in 1996 broadened the focus to include source water protection, operator training, funding for water system improvements, and public information. For more information, visit:

Although EPA regulations assist in the protection of source waters, it is important to remember that if your drinking water comes from a private well, the safety of that water is your responsibility. EPA regulations do not apply to private water supplies.

At the State Level

While the federal regulations provide an important framework, most oversight of drinking water supplies happens at the state level. This section does not include all Rhode Island regulations governing drinking water, but it does offer an overview of programs and regulations by agency:

Rhode Island HEALTH
Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM)
Rhode Island Water Resources Board
Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program

Rhode Island HEALTH

RI HEALTH's Office of Drinking Water Quality engages in three primary actions to protect the safety of drinking water: they oversee the process of approving new public water supplies; they monitor and inspect existing public water supplies; and they work with public water suppliers to comply with federal and state regulations.

Monitoring Public Water Supplies
All public water suppliers are required to monitor water quality on a regular schedule and report results to RI HEALTH. Procedures are in place to notify residents when sampling results show elevated levels of contaminants. For many pollutants, corrective action and/or notification is required when contaminants are relatively low, below drinking water maximum levels.

Providing Consumer Confidence Reports
All public water suppliers must provide a summary of their water quality every year to their consumers, known as a Consumer Confidence Report. This report informs consumers about who the supplier is and how to contact them, the source of the water, how the water is treated, what substances have been found in the water, and what protective actions the supplier is taking.

Source Water Assessment and Protection
RI HEALTH and the University of Rhode Island's NEMO Program completed assessments of all of Rhode Island's public water supplies. The full reports as well as summaries are available on the Source Water Assessments page of this website.

Rules and Regulations
For a copy of RI HEALTH's Rules and Regulations Pertaining to Public Drinking Water, please visit their website (link provided above) and follow the link to Regulations.

Rhode Island Department of
Environmental Management (RIDEM)

Groundwater/Wellhead Protection
The RIDEM Office of Water Resources helps protect the state's water quality by assisting in the control of wastewater discharges, promoting nonpoint source abatement, discouraging groundwater pollution, and controlling alterations to freshwater wetlands. The Underground Injection Control Program and Individual Sewage Disposal System Program are two programs that specifically target groundwater protection. Given that 26% of the state's population and two-thirds of the state's communities depend on groundwater for their water supply, these programs are especially critical.

Since 1997, RIDEM has required under its Rules and Regulations for Groundwater Quality, that municipal governments and all large water suppliers submit detailed wellhead protection plans. RIDEM's Wellhead Protection Program has provided grants and technical assistance to develop and implement these plans.

Rules and Regulations
For a copy of RIDEM's regulations governing water resources (wetlands, onsite septic systems, pollutant discharge elimination systems, dredging, well drilling, and wastewater), please visit their website (link provided above) and follow the link to Regulations.

Rhode Island Water Resources Board

The Rhode Island Water Resources Board (WRB) and the Rhode Island Water Resources Board Corporate play a critical role in the management of public water supplies. These affiliated agencies can acquire lands, water rights, and easements for water supply needs. They also can build water supply facilities and lease, sell, or merge water supply systems. The agencies work closely with the 28 major public water suppliers in Rhode Island as well as with the Rhode Island Department of Administration, Statewide Planning Program, Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, Rhode Island Department of Health, and the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission.

Water Supply Systems Management

All large public water suppliers (those that supply over 50 million gallons of water each year) are required to prepare and submit Water Suppply System Management Plans to the WRB. These plans include data on source water, infrastructure, water volumes withdrawn, water uses, water quality, supply management, and demand management.

The water quality protection component of the plan specifically requires these suppliers to identify "measures needed to protect each reservoir or well field from sources of contamination, including acquisition of buffer zones, diversion of storm water or spills, and desirable land use control regulations." Suppliers also must prepare a "priority list of actions for implementing these protection measures."

Penny Per Hundred Program

Under this program, for every one hundred gallons of water delivered by major water suppliers, one cent is set aside for water quality improvement projects such as land acquisition, treatment facility upgrades, or atershed signage. Additional details about this program can be found at the WRB website.

Laws, Regulations, and Policies

The WRB provides a detailed list of Rhode Island general laws, regulations and policies, as well as federal laws governing water supplies on their website.

Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program

The Rhode Island Statewide Planning Program is responsible for "coordinating the actions of state, local, and federal agencies and private individuals within the framework of the state's development goals and policies." (Rhode Island Division of Planning website) Many of the activities include addressing drinking water quality and quantity issues.

Local Comprehensive Plans

The Statewide Planning Program is responsible for reviewing and approving local comprehensive plans, which every municipality must provide. These local comprehensive plans must address water supply management at the local level in addition to other elements that relate to a municipality's future growth and resource protection. The Statewide Planning Program's website offers a handbook, data catalogue, and list of forms to help municipalities with their local comprehensive plans.

State Guide Plan

The State Guide Plan includes policies that address long-range water quantity and quality issues. These water supply policies can be found on the Statewide Planning Program's website. In addition, the State Land Use Plan specifically addresses water supply planning.

Copyright 2006 URI Water Quality Program