There has been much progress since the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act. Regulations adopted under these regulations served as a means of enacting many beneficial measures; however the issues facing society today are more complex, often having societal and personal implications, and are not fixed by quick regulatory decision. Workshop participants discussed whether the approaches that government has traditionally used are feasible as the United States faces a growing population and increased consumption per capita. Further, any new paradigm will not be the sole regulatory domain of one agency, but will rather rely on smaller shifts and increased coordination among multiple agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.
The participants noted that water has to be valued as a commodity and that wastewater treatment is costly, especially with regard to reclaiming water for beneficial purposes. In most states, the entire burden of water quality is placed on the drinking water system, and its customers to pay for what happens upstream. Planned potable reuse also affects private wells as people move from urban to suburban areas. A small, but malfunctioning septic tank system can have the same microbiological loading in certain locations as a large metropolitan area wastewater treatment plant.
Participants suggested that government has to achieve water capture at the community and watershed levels for purposes such as recharging groundwater. This could work in concert with land-use planning and monitoring, because the ability to understand the effects of point and nonpoint source pollution has to be addressed on a local level.