Safe Water Engineering


Safe Water Engineering LLC was founded by Elin Betanzo to improve access to safe drinking water through engineering and policy consulting.

Improvements Needed to the Public Notification Rule Following Hurricane Maria

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico in September of 2017, it took months before public water systems had electricity restored and were able to distribute safe drinking water to the public again. This public health emergency highlighted several opportunities to provide more reliable information to the public about the status of their drinking water during a natural disaster. This journal article in Environmental Health Reports provides several recommendations for improving the Public Notification Rule under the Safe Drinking Water Act based on experiences in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. These include:

A man collects water after Hurricane Maria cuts water service to his home in Puerto Rico. Photo: David Harvey

A man collects water after Hurricane Maria cuts water service to his home in Puerto Rico. Photo: David Harvey

  • Defining a “waterborne emergency” as anytime when the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services declares a Public Health Emergency and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has confirmed there are potential impacts to drinking water quality, thus triggering the requirements of the Public Notification Rule.

  • Requiring Primacy Agencies to report to the EPA and track all public water systems issuing public notifications following a waterborne emergency to facilitate identification of water systems that may need recovery assistance.

  • Requiring public water systems to perform water quality sampling and analysis with a certified laboratory to demonstrate that water quality meets pre-disaster conditions prior to rescinding public notice.

  • Requiring water quality sampling based on potential hazards identified in the public water system’s source water assessments and other potential hazards identified following the waterborne emergency, even if the water system qualified for reduced monitoring prior to the emergency.

  • Requiring primacy agencies to continue tracking public notice and update the status of public water systems until all have returned to service following water quality sampling and analysis.

These updates to the Public Notification Rule would increase the public’s knowledge about their drinking water quality during a waterborne emergency. They will also allow for state, territorial, and federal governments to better assess and provide the resources needed to ensure public water systems are recovering from the waterborne emergency. Wide scale reporting on the status of drinking water supplied by public water systems during the disaster recovery phase will increase public confidence in the safety of drinking water while protecting the population from widespread disease.

Click here for the article