Drinking Water Requirements for States and Public Water Systems

Public Notification Rule

Rule Summary

The Public Notification Rule (PN) is part of the Safe Drinking Water Act. The rule ensures that consumers will know if there is a problem with their drinking water. These notices alert consumers if there is risk to public health. They also notify customers:

  • if the water does not meet drinking water standards;
  • if the water system fails to test its water;
  • if the system has been granted a variance (use of less costly technology); or
  • if the system has been granted an exemption (more time to comply with a new regulation).

In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) revised the existing Public Notification Rule. The revisions matched the form, manner, and timing of the notices to the relative risk to human health. The revised rule makes notification easier and more effective for both water systems and their customers.

Public Notification Rule Quick Reference Guide (PDF)(4 pp, 414 K, About PDF) EPA 816-F-09-010, August 2009

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Rule History

The Public Notification Rule (PN) was revised in 2000. The revision requires faster notice in emergencies and fewer notices overall. The revised notices provide better communication of potential health risks from drinking water violations. The revised notices also include information on how to avoid risks. 

Water systems are able to better target notices to the seriousness of the risk. This makes the existing notification process less burdensome for water systems. The revised notices are also easier for consumers to read and understand. 

Each time a new drinking water regulation is promulgated the PN Rule is updated to reflect the requirements for each regulation.

This page provides information about the PN rule for primacy agencies and drinking water system owners and operators.

Revised Public Notification Rule

Public Notification Rule Fact Sheets

Historical Rulemaking Documents


Public water systems must notify their customers when:

  • they violate EPA or state drinking water regulations (including monitoring requirements), or
  • they provide drinking water that may pose a risk to consumer’s health.

Water systems test regularly for approximately 90 contaminants. The monitoring ensures identification of regulated contaminants at levels which may pose a risk to human health.

Unfortunately, water quality can sometimes change. Despite the efforts of water suppliers, problems with drinking water can and do occur. When problems arise, consumers have a right to know what happened and what they need to do. The public notice requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act require water suppliers to provide this notice.

EPA sets strict requirements on the form, manner, content, and frequency of public notices.

There are 10 required elements in a public notice. Notices must contain:

  • A description of the violation that occurred, including the contaminant(s) of concern, and  the contaminant level(s);
  • When the violation or situation occurred;
  • The potential health effects (including standard required language);
  • The population at risk, including subpopulations vulnerable if exposed to the contaminant in their drinking water;
  • Whether alternate water supplies need to be used;
  • What the water system is doing to correct the problem;
  • Actions consumers can take;
  • When the system expects a resolution to the problem;
  • How to contact the water system for more information; and
  • Language encouraging broader distribution of the notice.

Here is an example of what a Public Notice looks like:

Public Notice: Notification Tiers

EPA specifies three categories, or tiers, of public notification. The delivery timeframe of PN depends on what tier a violation or situation falls into. Each tier has different required methods to deliver the notice depending on water system type. The following table summarizes the differences between PN Tiers:

The 3 Tiers of Public Notification

  Required DistributionTime Notification Delivery Method

Tier 1

(Immediate Notice)

Any time a situation occurs where there is the potential for human health to be immediately impacted, water suppliers have 24 hours to notify people who may drink the water about the situation.

Water suppliers must use media outlets such as television, radio, and newspapers, post their notice in public places, personally deliver a notice to their customers, or an alternative method approved by the primacy agency.

Tier 2

(Notice as soon as possible)

Any time a water system provides water with levels of a contaminant that exceed EPA or state standards or that hasn't been treated properly, but that doesn't pose an immediate risk to human health, the water system must notify its customers as soon as possible, but within 30 days of the violation.

Notice may be provided via the media, posting, or through the mail.

Tier 3

(Annual Notice)

When water systems violate a drinking water standard that does not have a direct impact on human health (for example, failing to take a required sample on time) the water supplier has up to a year to provide a notice of this situation to its customers.

Tier 3 PN must be delivered the same way as Tier 2 PN. The extra time gives water suppliers the opportunity to consolidate these notices and send them with Annual Water Quality Reports (Consumer Confidence Reports).

Compliance Help

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