Economics of place-based monitoring under the safe drinking water act, part I: Spatial and temporal patterns of contaminants, and design of screening strategies

Edwin Brands, R. Rajagopal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The goals of environmental legislation and associated regulations are to protect public health, natural resources, and ecosystems. In this context, monitoring programs should provide timely and relevant information so that the regulatory community can implement legislation in a cost-effective and efficient manner. The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) of 1974 attempts to ensure that public water systems (PWSs) supply safe water to its consumers. As is the case with many other federal environmental statutes, SDWA monitoring has been implemented in relatively uniform fashion across the USA. In this three part series, spatial and temporal patterns in water quality data are utilized to develop, compare, and evaluate the economic performance of alternative place-based monitoring approaches to current monitoring practice. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), a common list of over 90 contaminants is analyzed nationwide using EPA-authorized laboratory procedures. National and state-level summaries of SDWA data have shown that not all contaminants occur in all places at all times. This hypothesis is confirmed and extended by showing that only a few (less than seven) contaminants are of concern in any one of 19 Iowa surface water systems studied. These systems collectively serve about 350,000 people and their sizes vary between 1,200 and 120,000. The distributions of contaminants found in these systems are positively skewed, with many non-detect measurements. A screening strategy to identify such contaminants in individual systems is presented. These findings have significant implications not only for the design of alternative monitoring programs, but also in multi-billion-dollar decisions that influence the course of future drinking water infrastructure, repair, and maintenance investments.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-89
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Monitoring and Assessment
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Aug 2008
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Acknowledgments The research reported in this paper was supported in part by the USDA (CSREES) Grant number 2001-51130-11373 “Water Quality Protection in Agroecosystems: Integrating Science, Technology, and Policy at the Watershed Scale” to the University of Iowa (2001–2005). The Geography Department, the UI Honors’ Program and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences provided significant in-kind resources in the form of space, computational support, and several student research internships. Data was provided by the Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC) of the University of Iowa and the Iowa Geological Survey Bureau of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Additional thanks are due Dr. Michael Wichman and Sherri Marine of the University Hygienic Laboratory for their assistance with interpretation of laboratory analyses. We sincerely appreciate several valuable comments provided by the anonymous reviewers to the journal. The findings and conclusions reported in the paper are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the sponsoring/supporting organizations; therefore no official endorsement should be inferred on their part.


  • Atrazine
  • Drinking water
  • Environmental policy
  • Iowa
  • Nitrate
  • Place-based monitoring
  • Screening
  • Spatial patterns
  • Temporal patterns


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