Enforcing Drinking Water Regulations

Information for Water Systems and Local Decision Makers

Our mission is to protect the health of the people of Washington State by assuring safe and reliable drinking water.

Operating Permit Program

By definition, Group A water systems have 15 or more service connections or regularly serve 25 or more people 60 or more days per year. State law requires all Group A public water systems to apply for an annual operating permit, which includes an annual fee. We process and issue operating permits throughout the year, based on system size and type. See Chapter 246-294 WAC, DOH 331-011 (PDF).

The operating permit allows us to evaluate a system's performance in complying with drinking water requirements. We then present our findings in a meaningful way to system owners and operators, consumers, permitting authorities, and lending institutions. The permit provides useable information about a water system's adequacy to serve existing services or to grow. We also use the operating permit as a tool to protect public health by ensuring a system's drinking water is safe and reliable. Water systems that do not comply with state and federal regulations are reported to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) each year, you can find these reports on our EPA Violation Reports webpage.

Evaluation and Compliance

We enforce state and federal regulations in a step-by-step process, with level of severity, as follows.

  1. Notify the water system of a violation and offer technical assistance.
  2. Come to an informal compliance agreement.
  3. Issue a departmental order.
  4. Issue fines.

To support these formal enforcement efforts, we begin with less punitive methods of compelling water systems to meet requirements. In 2019 we updated our enforcement process. To learn more, read DOH 331-639 (PDF).

One of our most powerful tools is the annual operating permit program. To learn how enforcement affects the operating permit, read DOH 331-339 (PDF).

The color-coded operating permit system provides an easy method for water consumers to understand the status of the system providing their drinking water.

Category System is: We view this system as:
Green Substantially in compliance with regulations. Adequate for existing uses and for additional service connections up to the number of approved connections.

Substantially in compliance with all requirements. But it:

  • Was notified to submit a legally compliant water system plan and has not satisfied this planning requirement.
  • Is under a compliance agreement to address the system's status as a state significant non-complier and is also acting in accordance with that agreement.
Adequate for existing uses and for additional service connections up to the number approved by the Department in a water system plan or modified by the Department in a compliance document.
Blue Substantially in compliance with requirements. However, the system does not have a Department-approved water system design or is no longer operating consistently with that design, or the system has exceeded the number of Department-approved connections. Adequate for existing uses, but not adequate for adding new connections.
Red Substantially out of compliance with requirements. Inadequate for existing uses and no additional connections are allowed. This may result in denial of home loans, building permits, on-site sewage disposal permits, food service permits, liquor licenses, and other permits or licenses for properties the system serves.

For More Information

Washington State Department of Health

Southwest Region Tumwater 360-236-3030

Northwest Region Kent 253-395-6750

Eastern Region Spokane Valley 509-329-2100