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All About Drinking Water: Drinking Water Program overview

The Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy’s (NDEE) Drinking Water Program is dedicated to ensuring safe drinking water for all the state’s public water consumers. The program works with water systems, communities, and other state and federal partners to ensure Nebraskans have reliable and safe drinking water.

More than 1,300 public water systems in Nebraska serve approximately 80% of the people in the state. NDEE regulates these facilities to ensure the water they offer is protective of public health.

That regulation process takes a good deal of effort and collaboration that spans multiple facets of drinking water production. That is why NDEE is providing a series of articles on the drinking water program. This series will cover a range of topics related to public drinking water, including how systems get up and running, operator requirements, the monitoring and inspection processes, and what happens if a public water system is out of compliance.

This first article will give a broad overview of the program.

The state’s drinking water program officially transferred from the Department of Health and Human Services to NDEE in 2021 through Legislative Bill 148. This legislation brought all the state’s water-related programs under one agency.

The Drinking Water Program ensures public water systems comply with the Nebraska Safe Drinking Water Act, which is derived from the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The SDWA sets maximum contaminate levels (MCLs) for the safe consumption of drinking water. Title 179 – Public Water Systems is the state regulation that describes how the state SDWA is enforced.

Drinking Water Program teams
Several teams within the Drinking Water Program play a role in ensuring public water consumers have drinking water that meets all state and federal standards. This includes:
  • The Engineering team, which reviews and approves construction plans for public water systems (PWSs)
  • The Field Services team that inspects water systems, conducts training and certification of water operators, provides technical services to PWSs, and works with PWSs to develop technical, managerial, and financial capacity
  • The Monitoring and Compliance team that monitors water testing conducted by PWSs and issues enforcement actions to ensure compliance with the SDWA.

Who’s regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act?
All regulated PWSs serve at least 25 people daily for a minimum of 60 days per year or provide water to at least 15 service connections. There are several types of public water systems, and all are regulated by NDEE.
  • Community Water Systems – cities, towns, and villages
  • Non-Transient Non-Community Water Systems – schools, office buildings, and hospitals if they have their own well. They serve a non-transient population on a temporary basis.
  • Transient Water Systems – gas stations, rest areas, hotels, and restaurants if they have their own well. They serve a transient population – those who are just passing through.

Private wells are not regulated under the SDWA.

Drinking Water Partners
The Drinking Water Program works with partners from the Nebraska Rural Water Association, the Nebraska chapter of the American Water Works Association, the League of Nebraska Municipalities, the Midwest Assistance Program (MAP), and the Wichita State University Environmental Finance Center to provide training and assistance to PWSs and Water Operators.

In addition, NDEE has a Capacity Development Program. The SDWA requires states to adopt a strategy to ensure new and existing PWSs have the technical, managerial, and financial capacity to provide safe and adequate water to their consumers. The Capacity Development Program contracts with Technical Assistance providers such as MAP and Wichita State University to provide direct assistance for specific needs of the systems. This program provides training to water system personnel and their Boards on developing that capacity and managing their assets. This helps PWSs develop long- and short-term plans to keep their systems running properly.

NDEE is proud to work with its partners and PWSs to protect drinking water for all Nebraskans.