The Safe Drinking Water Act


ANNCR: The Safe Drinking Water Act – on today's Congressional Moment

The federal government's concern with safe drinking water dates back to 1914, when the U.S. Public Health Service established standards for bacteria in drinking water on ships, trains, and other interstate carriers.

By the late 1960s, more and more man–made chemicals were being used in industry and agriculture. There was scientific proof that these chemicals were making their way into the nation's drinking water through street and farm runoff, leakages from underground disposal tanks, and factory waste.

In 1972, drinking water safety first became a major public issue when scientists studying the Mississippi River found 36 industrial pollutants present in the Louisiana area water supply.

In response, Congress passed The Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, establishing national drinking water safety standards and addressing inconsistencies in monitoring the nation's water supply caused by differing state standards.

A series of congressional amendments in 1986, '88, and '96 added additional protection. But even today, a powerful hurricane or any unexpected disaster can cause a disruption in the controlled supply of safe drinking water — and water systems on trains, ships and airplanes need consistent monitoring — making this an issue that requires ongoing attention.

STANDARD CLOSE: This is Lee Hamilton. Congressional decisions impact all our lives. To find out more about how Congress works, or to get involved in your government, visit the Center on Congress website at