The analysis found that water systems cited for at least one violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2015 serve almost 77 million people -about one-quarter of the US population - in all 50 states.
"Threats on Tap: Widespread Violations Highlight Need for Investment in Water Infrastructure and Protections" found almost 80,000 violations impacting drinking water systems in every state, but under-reporting and lax enforcement could mean the number of violations is much higher. The problem is more pronounced in smaller and rural communities: Water systems that serve 500 people or less made up more than 50 percent of all health-based violations in 2015.
"The problem is twofold ... we're living on borrowed time with our ancient, deteriorating water infrastructure", said Erik Olson, the director of NRDC's health programs and co-author of the report. According to the analysis, the nation's smallest water utilities, serving fewer than 500 customers, accounted for half of the health-based violations reported in 2015, and nearly 70 percent of violations overall. "These are situations where it's confirmed that there is, for example, too much arsenic or that they haven't treated their water to take care of lead contamination to deal with microbial risks".
The health violations reported by the NRDC are distinguished from administrative errors like failing to report test results, which are listed as violations but do not in themselves indicate problems with water quality.
The crisis in Flint began in 2014, when city officials switched to using the Flint River.
The NRDC compiled the report through data released by the Environmental Protection Agency.
In all, the EPA regulates around 100 contaminants but the nonprofit adds that the EPA has not set a new standard for a drinking water contaminant under the Safe Drinking Water Act since 1996.
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Enforcement could become even looser if President Trump's proposed 31 percent cut in EPA funding is implemented, the NRDC said.
According to the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention, more than 19 million Americans get sick every year from drinking contaminated water.
Smaller water systems are often not financially or technologically equipped to upgrade aging infrastructure unable to filter out contaminants.
Improve water infrastructure and modernize drinking water treatment plants.
Infrastructure projects could be an economic boon, creating jobs while assisting public health, the group said.
Strengthen existing regulations and establish new ones.
Crockett welcomed the NRDC's efforts to highlight the challenges to drinking water quality but said its presentation of data failed to distinguish between genuine violations of water quality, and administrative errors by companies doing the testing. Jamie Consuegra, an NRDC legislative director, said that would only further weaken the agency's ability to ensure that safe drinking water regulations are followed by water systems.