Electronic consumer confidence reports
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September 13, 2012
Electronic consumer confidence reports

Community water systems (CWSs) may meet their statutory requirements to directly deliver consumer confidence reports (CCRs) to bill-paying customers by either mailing paper copies or through electronic means.  Electronic communication can be conducted in a variety of ways, and the EPA is attempting to educate CWSs about what is and is not permissible under the Safe Drinking Water Act. 
“Attachment” and stakeholder meeting
In December 2011, the EPA released its CCR retrospective review, which included an evaluation of several electronic methods to determine which meet and which do not meet existing CCR rule requirements.  The Agency subsequently issued a draft “attachment” that goes into more detail about how CWSs can approach electronic delivery.  In addition, the EPA will be holding a public meeting October 1, 2012, in Washington, D.C., to listen to stakeholder comments on potential electronic approaches to meeting the CCR requirements.
The EPA regulations implementing the CCR requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act indicate that CWSs “must mail or otherwise directly deliver one copy of the report to each customer” (emphasis added).  The requirement for direct delivery may be waived by the governor of a state for CWSs serving fewer than 10,000 persons.  Most CWSs now meet their CCR distribution responsibilities by mailing paper copies of CCRs to paying customers.  While there is no prohibition against electronic delivery of CCRs, there apparently is uncertainty about precisely how e-delivery meets the regulatory requirements. 
Multiple e-mail approaches
The attachment lists the following electronic methods available to CWSs to meet the CCR requirements:

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  • E-mail a URL that directly connects to the CCR on a publicly available site on the Internet.  However, a URL that navigates to a webpage that requires a customer to search for the CCR does not meet the direct delivery requirement.
  • E-mail the CCR as an electronic file attachment (e.g., portable document format [PDF]).
  • E-mail the CCR text and tables inserted into the body of an e-mail (not as an attachment).
  • Additional electronic delivery that meets the “otherwise directly deliver requirement."  This approach is intended to cover electronic delivery methods that may be developed in the future.

Paper mailings still needed
Electronic approaches to meeting the CCR requirements carry advantages and disadvantages.  On the positive side, a CWS can expedite CCR delivery through the use of existing electronic billing databases; give customers access to more information when they go to the CWS website; reduce printing and mailing costs; and consume fewer natural resources.
Among the potential drawbacks, some customers may be unwilling or unable to receive the necessary information electronically, and the CWS would need to manage two delivery systems.  Unlike certain environmental reporting requirements for industry, the public cannot at this point be compelled to have an e-mail address or to make that address available.  Other potential problems are lack of software compatibility, spam filtering, firewalls, and file size limitations; reluctance of customers to download an attachment or go to an unfamiliar URL; and placing the responsibility on the customer to take the next step (e.g., access a website). 
The attachment also discusses e-approaches to other CCR requirements, including making “good-faith” efforts to reach customers who do not receive a water bill, multilingual requirements, and the small system mailing-requirement waiver.
The attachment is at http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/ccr/upload/ccrreviewdraft2012.pdf.  Information on EPA’s meeting was published in the September 11, 2012, FR. 

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