of the Department of Health's Oversight of Public Water Systems
The Department of Health is
designated as the state agency with overall responsibility for ensuring that
the public is provided safe drinking water. The federal Safe Drinking Water
Act of 1974 required all public water systems to meet national standards
that would protect consumers from harmful contaminants in drinking water. A
public water system provides drinking water to at least 25 people or serves
15 or more service connections for at least 60 days per year. Under federal
law, a public water system may be publicly or privately owned. As of
February 2000, there were 134 public water systems in Hawaii. Public water
systems treat source water if necessary, to ensure that contaminants in tap
water do not exceed federal or state standards.
The Safe Drinking Water
Branch of the Department of Health maintains a program of statewide public
water system supervision that includes surveillance, monitoring, technical
assistance, engineering review, and enforcement. During FY1998-99, the
branch was appropriated 38 positions. The branch coordinates statewide water
sampling between staff of water systems on neighbor islands and Oahu and the
department's State Laboratories Division. The five-member Board of
Certification of Operating Personnel in Water Treatment Plants, placed in
the department for administrative purposes, is responsible for ensuring that
qualified individuals operate the treatment plants.
Our audit was limited to
assessing the department's activities related to drinking water that is
distributed by public water systems (either publicly or privately owned) for
human consumption. We did not assess the department's efforts with regard to
ground water protection.
We found that overall, the
Department of Health has effectively monitored public water systems to
ensure that safe drinking water is distributed to the public. However,
further improvements would enhance the State's safe drinking water program.
Our review of the
department's monitoring efforts included calendar year 1999 chemical and
microbiological monitoring requirements for 29 randomly selected public
water systems on Oahu, Hawaii, Maui, Kauai, and Molokai. We found that all chemical
monitoring requirements were satisfied for the 29 systems. However, one
water system collected fewer coliform (microbiological) samples than
required. We also found that the department, through the Board of
Certification of Operating Personnel in Water Treatment Plants, has
adequately managed its certification program.
We also found that
microbiological violations are effectively addressed, and that the
department has ensured that Hawaii consumers are informed of safe drinking
water violations. Enforcement actions against "significant noncompliers"—violators
who pose the greatest risk to health—are appropriate but sometimes
Moreover, we found that
available resources have not been maximized. A new loan program to assist
public water systems in protecting safe drinking water under federal grants
from the Environmental Protection Agency has had a slow start. Also,
"set-aside" moneys available to the department from the loan fund
are underutilized. Finally, inadequate staffing levels of the loan fund
program have hampered progress.
Recommendations and Response
We made a number of
recommendations designed to address our findings in the areas of monitoring,
certification, violations, enforcement, and maximizing resources.