UIC and the SDWA 40th Anniversary
40 Years of Groundwater Protection – Underground Injection Control and the Safe Drinking Water Act
The Safe Drinking Water Act was passed in December 1974 and this year we commemorate the 40th Anniversary of the legislation designed to protect drinking water sources for the nation. The Act also provided for the Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program to protect underground sources of drinking water from injection and subsurface disposal of waste and fluids.
Groundwater provides over one-third of our drinking water supply. More than 98% of our rural population supply their own water from groundwater wells. Large volumes of groundwater resources remain and will serve as a critical source for future supply. Water found underground is generally better protected from man’s activities than surface water. However groundwater quality can be affected by wells drilled into or through aquifers for the storage of product, recovery of water, or for the disposal of liquid wastes into underground sources of drinking water and into deep zones below freshwater aquifers.
The Act provided authority for EPA to set national standards to control underground injection to protect underground sources of drinking water. EPA regulations provide for states to obtain delegation from EPA to implement a state UIC program that is equivalent to EPA’s program. These UIC Programs contain drinking water protection measures which include: rules and regulations, inventory and permitting of wells, technical and operational standards, record keeping and reporting, and compliance and enforcement. The first delegated state programs were implemented in 1982. Currently 40 states implement approved programs for one or more of the UIC injection well classes (I-VI).
Today, the UIC Program remains an important Federal groundwater protection program covering a wide range of injection activities. Deep underground injection, Class I well program, is used to safely dispose and isolate more than 50% of the liquid hazardous waste and much of the nonhazardous industrial liquid waste generated in the US. The majority of produced and flow-back water associated with energy exploration and development is re-injected below usable groundwater through wells permitted under the UIC program in the Class II well program. In addition, approximately 60% of the salt water produced with oil and gas onshore in the United States is injected to enhance oil recovery. In-situ solution mining of salt, uranium and other soluble resources through the injection and production of fluids, an alternative to open pit mining, is regulated under the UIC Class III Program. The broad category of Class V wells, shallow injection into or above an underground source of drinking water, was addressed in the 1990’s with an EPA management strategy, new rules and hazardous waste well closures. Many types of shallow injection wells are included in this class including stormwater and multifamily domestic wastewater disposal. Remediation of groundwater contamination often utilizes injection to facilitate removal or degradation of contaminants. Unrelated to waste disposal, managed aquifer recharge is used to store injected water for later recovery for drinking water and other consumptive uses. Other uses for injected water include wetlands restoration, aquifer pressure management, stream flow management, and salinity control. In 2010, EPA finalized regulations for the Geologic Sequestration (GS) of carbon dioxide (CO2) using the existing UIC Program regulatory framework. Criteria and standards were modified to specifically address GS, thus creating a new class of wells – Class VI.
The Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC), formerly the Underground Injection Practices Council, has been instrumental since 1983 in assisting the states and EPA in implementing the UIC program. GWPC serves as a forum bringing together regulators, industry, water NGOs and those with environmental concerns for regulatory review, technical and regulatory training, and technical and policy issue discussion. The ongoing protection of groundwater and the many successes of the UIC program come from the cooperation and commitment of these partners.
For More Information --
GWPC, Injection Wells: An Introduction to Their Use, Operation & Regulation, September 2013
Underground Injection Control (UIC) Program-Facts & History, Bill Bryson, Kansas Geological Survey and Bob Van Voorhees, Underground Injection Technology Council http://www.gwpc.org/sites/default/files/event-sessions/VanVoorhees_Bryson.pdf
Other Information Sources
US Geological Survey, Circular 1405 http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1405/ and Fact Sheet 2014-3109, November 2014 http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2014/3109/