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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Clean-water legislation before Congress will be especially beneficial to Tennesseans if enacted, a University of Tennessee water quality specialist said Thursday.

Tim Gangaware, associate director of UT’s Water Resource Research Center, said the bill would enable small rural utilities — which are prevalent in Tennessee — to more closely check water for dangerous contaminants.

The bill would help protect Tennesseans from microbes such as cryptosporidium, which contaminated Milwaukee’s water system and contributed to some 100 deaths in 1994, Gangaware said.

The House-Senate conference on the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 agreed Wednesday on a final version of the bill, which goes back to both chambers. Quick passage is expected.

Currently, water companies must check for trace amounts of pollutants that are difficult and expensive to detect and often pose little health risk, Gangaware said.

The time and cost of testing prevents some utilities, especially smaller ones, from performing non-mandated tests for other contaminants, such as cryptosporidium, he said.

The new bill eases requirements on smaller systems — those serving 3,300 or fewer people — of testing for pollutants in amounts so small that they pose only a slight risk.

Of Tennessee’s 528 water supply utilities, 292 serve less than 3,000 people, according to the state Division of Water Supply.

Gangaware said the new bill will allow those small utilities to focus more on dangerous contaminants such as cryptosporidium.

“Utilities have to monitor for contaminants at levels that some labs can’t even detect,” Gangaware said. “Many smaller utilities don’t have labs and must pay expensive costs to have water monitored for contamination at levels which pose very little risk to their customers.

“This bill will give small utilities relief from the type of monitoring they don’t really need to be

doing and let them focus on problems in their systems which have a greater risk potential, particularly in rural areas like those found in Tennessee.”

The measure would create a $7.6 billion revolving fund over seven years to upgrade municipal and rural water systems.

It also requires utilities to send consumers annual notices on what pollutants were found in their water and to tell consumers the sources of water supply pollution.

“It sometimes can be difficult for consumers to find water supply information, and it is usually written in technical language that is difficult for laymen to understand,” Gangaware said. “This will help educate people about the job their utility is doing.”

Contact: Tim Gangaware (423-974-4251)