Best Practices Guide -- Water System Owner's Roles and Responsibilities

This guide, released by EPA, can help water system owners better understand:

  • their roles and responsibilities in delivering safe drinking water to their system's customers.
  • additional responsibilities, which can vary depending on the system size, characteristics, managerial structure and regulatory requirements.

All system owners share several key responsibilities that are critical to meeting the goal of providing an adequate and safe supply of drinking water.

This guide is intended for owners and operators of all public water systems serving fewer than 10,000 people.

System Operation

Work to ensure that the system is functioning properly, efficiently and in a financially responsible way.

General Responsibilities

  • Annually assess your system's technical, managerial and financial capacity:
    • Ensure that your system's infrastructure (pumps, pipes, tanks, etc.) is in good working order
    • Determine whether staffing levels are adequate.
    • Work with the system operator to ensure that all staff training needs are met.
    • Review your system's budget annually to assess whether your system is collecting enough revenue to cover costs of operating and maintaining the system.
  • Determine and plan infrastructure maintenance and replacement needs with the system operator.
    • Develop and maintain a management plan to inventory the system's assets.
    • Develop and maintain a cross connection control and backflow prevention program.
  • Discuss treatment optimization with the system operator and develop an optimization plan that includes goals for the water system to meet.
  • Identify sources of local, state and federal funding with the help from regulators, planning departments and technical assistance providers.

Regulatory Compliance

Support your system in complying with all relevant regulations and protecting your customers' health.

General Responsibilities

  • Make sure the system operator is aware of all relevant regulations, including all sampling, reporting and record-keeping requirements.
  • Stay informed of sample results and make sure all follow-up sampling, reporting, record-keeping and public-notification requirements are met.
  • Ensure the system is in compliance with existing and upcoming regulations. Work with regulators as necessary.
  • Communicate with state and local officials to increase your awareness of new and upcoming regulations and tools that can help promote compliance and system security.


Maintain a positive relationship with customers, regulators and the system operator. Keep them informed of your efforts to provide high-quality drinking water.

General Responsibilities

  • Maintain open channels of communication with staff concerning budget issues, regulatory changes or planned staffing changes.
  • Inform customers of the need for infrastructure investments and rate changes.
  • Confirm that annual customer confidence reports are accurate and delivered on time, if applicable.
  • Meet regularly with the operator for updates on routine system inspections and scheduled maintenance.

System Security

General Responsibilities

  • Invest in any necessary security upgrades. As part of daily inspections, examine critical facilities and components, including door locks and fencing.
  • Update the emergency response plan and participate in exercise drills with the system operator.
  • Make sure that you and the system operator know whom to contact in case of an emergency.
  • Develop procedures for handling new and terminated employees, such as collecting keys and changing locks.
  • Communicate with state and local officials and your community to increase your awareness of new developments and tools.

For additional information, call the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at 1-800-426-4791, visit the EPA Web site at or contact your state drinking water representative.

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