FAQs: Drinking Water Public Notification

Drinking water suppliers must notify people if their water does not meet a water quality standard.

General Information

Why is public notification (PN) required?

Public Water Systems (PWS) must notify the people they serve when their water exceeds federal or state water quality standards. Notices are required within 24 hours if there is an acute threat to public health. All notices must indicate any potential health effects and what consumers can do to protect themselves. Additionally, all notices must have contact information so that a consumer may contact the PWS directly if they are concerned.

Do the PN requirements (effective November 9, 2001) supersede the educational requirements under the Lead & Copper Rule (LCR)?

No, the public education requirements for the LCR are triggered by monitoring results over the lead action level that is not a violation. PN would be required when a PWS violates the LCR, e.g., by failing to monitor or develop treatment.

What kind of violations require a public notice?

In general, public notices are required for:

  • Violations of maximum contaminant levels (MCLs), maximum residual disinfectant levels (MRDLs)
  • Violations of treatment techniques
  • Violations of monitoring and testing procedures
  • Failure to comply with the schedule of a variance or exemption
  • Availability of unregulated contaminant monitoring data.

For a complete list, refer to Table 6 of 310 CMR 22.16 in the Drinking Water Regulations.

If a water system is purchasing water from another water system that incurred a violation, does the purchasing system have to notify the public if testing in that system reveals no violation?

No. But, if the violation is for a contaminant that the purchaser does not test, then the purchaser also has to do a public notice.

Who must a PWS inform when a violation occurs?

PWS with a violation that requires a PN must inform those served by the system. This does not mean that you have to notify every individual in the area served; but you must identify different types of consumers and make an effort to reach each type.

What does a PWS do if they serve a large population of non-English-speaking people?

In communities with 10% or greater non-English-speaking residents, or greater than 1000 people (whichever is less) of non-English-speaking residents, part of the notice must be translated into the language of that population. For translated phrases, refer to Appendix C of EPA's Public Notification Handbook. You may also contact your regional office.

What number should I call to report a Tier 1 violation that requires a 24-hour notification?

PWS should call their regional MassDEP office during work hours. During holidays and after normal work hours, contact MassDEP's emergency number that is staffed 24/7: 888-304-1133.

Whom should I contact at the regional MassDEP office?

Refer to Drinking Water Program Public Notification & Emergency Contacts.

You may also call the MassDEP regional office and ask for one of the PN staff:
WERO: 413-784-1100
CERO: 508-792-7650
NERO: 978-694-3200
SERO: 508-946-2700

Where are the public notification documents on the Internet?

Public Notification Forms and Templates are available here. Public notification regulations are found in 310 CMR 22.16 of the Drinking Water Regulations. Other references are available from: US EPA Public Notification page

Where can I get a summary of the changes to the federal public notification requirements?

Check EPA's The Public Notification Rule: A Quick Reference Guide


When do Public Water Systems (PWS) have to submit a certification form with the public notification (PN)?

The Massachusetts Drinking Water Regulations, 310 CMR 22.15(3)(b), require the submittal of the PN Certification Form (pdf format )/ PN Certification Form (doc format), and a copy of the notice within ten days of completing the public notification requirements, not the violation. Send signed certification form and copy of PN to your regional MassDEP/PN contact and the local board of health.

What does the phrase "you will meet future requirements for notifying new billing units and new customers of the violation" written in the instructions of the certification form entail?

Community PWS are required to provide copies of the most recent PN for any continuing violation, the existence of a variance or exemption or other ongoing situations requiring PN to all new billing units or new customers prior to or at the time service begins. Non-Community PWS must continuously post these PN documents.

Contaminants - Technical

If the unregulated contaminant monitoring information is included in the Consumer Confidence Report (CCR), does it also have to be included in an annual Tier 3 notice?

No, provided MassDEP has granted approval.

If there is a detect for unregulated contaminants, is it a Tier 2 violation?

No, MassDEP is seeking input from EPA on how to review detections of unregulated contaminants. In general, since these contaminants do not have MCLs or MRDLs, they would not trigger a Tier 2 requirement.

Are there Public Notification (PN) requirements for the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule (UCMR)?

Yes, community and non-transient non-community Public Water Systems (PWS) that are required to monitor for unregulated contaminants must notify persons they serve of the availability of the results with a Tier 3 notice no later than 12 months after the monitoring results are known. Additionally, a failure to monitor for unregulated contaminants would be a violation of the UCMR and would trigger a Tier 3 notice. PWS can use their CCR to meet this requirement with MassDEP approval.

What language must be used if there are threats to public health?

Refer to Table 7 of 310 CMR 22.16 in the Drinking Water Regulations.

Public Notice Specs

What information needs to be in a public notice (PN)?

Each public notice (Tier 1, 2 & 3) must identify the Public Water System (PWS) and include 10 items: a description of the violation, when it occurred, potential health effects, population at risk, use of alternative water supplies, actions consumer can take, PWS actions and expected resolution, contact information, and distribution language. Refer to MassDEP regulations 310 CMR 22.16(5)-Public Notice Content for specific notice requirements. Additional information can be found in EPA's Public Notification Handbook.

What method can a PWS use to deliver a public notice?

Tier 1 - Community and Non-Community PWS: broadcast media (radio, television), posting in a conspicuous location, or hand delivery and another method as needed to reach people served

Tier 2 - Community PWS: mail or hand delivery and another method as needed; Non-community PWS: posting, hand delivery, or mail and another method as needed

Tier 3 - Community PWS: mail or hand delivery and another method as needed; Non-Community PWS: posting, hand delivery or mail and another method to reach people served

Additional delivery methods may include-email, newspaper, web postings, multiple copy delivery to hospitals, clinics, businesses or apartment buildings.

Is there a minimum type size requirement for PN's in newspapers?

Newspapers have standard size fonts for publications, legal and classified advertisements. Clearly, public notices should be readable and font size should not be less than 10 for paid advertisements.

Does a PWS have to purchase an advertisement in the local newspaper? Since we have no control over the writing of an article, we can never be sure that an article will contain all of the required language.

No! A notice in a newspaper can be a paid ad or an article such as a press release. MassDEP encourages large systems to do notices in newspapers. Legal notices are discouraged because they are rarely read.

Do press releases satisfy the publication requirement for PNs?

Yes, and press releases/articles are more effective! State at the top of your press release, Press Release for Public Safety. Note who might be available from your emergency management department to read the notice on the air or agree to an interview. Clip the newspaper article once it is published and file for your records.

If a newspaper will not publish a story or press release, buy an advertisement as close to the front of the paper as possible and make the full notice large enough for people to see it. Legal notices are not recommended because they rarely meet the formatting requirements for public notices and are not widely read.

What about posted notices?

Posted notices should be durable and visible for a minimum of 7 days regardless of whether or not the situation is resolved so visibility and readability are key! Use the public notification templates available on the Public Notification Forms and Templates page here.

Do public service announcements (PSAs) count as a method of notifying the public?

A PSA is not a paid ad and one cannot guarantee that it will be read. PSAs can be used as a supplementary method; however, they do not cover the PN requirement for media broadcasting.

Are community access channels on cable T.V. considered a reasonable way to notify the public?

Cable stations are a good way to inform those who watch cable television; however, PWS should use this method in conjunction with other methods.

Do Tier 1 notices have to be repeated and/or contain additional information? What is the timeline?

MassDEP will discuss and determine additional information, repeat notices and timeline for these actions during the required Tier 1 consultation.


How will the testing laboratories handle the new 24-hour MassDEP requirements under Tier 1?

PWS should educate their laboratories about the new requirements. However, the requirement is for PWS to issue PN no later than 24 hours after learning of a violation. Certified laboratories are required under 310 CMR 42.13(4) to notify their clients of the results of all samples that exceed any established MCLs or reportable concentrations within 24 hours of obtaining valid data. Due to the range of acceptable holding times (the time between collection and analysis) and the time necessary to validate results, the total timeline between sample collection and the public notification (PN) may exceed 24 hours. When a threat to public health is suspected, PWS should request rush analytical services. MassDEP will take this matter under advisement and notify PWS and certified labs on any further clarifications.

Is the PWS at fault for delays in meeting the PN requirements if a lab doesn't provide results in a timely manner? Will the PWS be subject to a NON?

For all tiers the timeline for the notice begins at the point the PWS learns of a violation. Late reporting from a laboratory will delay PN, but generally as long as a PWS can prove that they took timely action upon learning of the violation there should be no enforcement on the PN requirement. However, since notifying the public is critical for Tier 1 emergencies, it remains the PWS's responsibility to ensure that the laboratory will produce results as quickly as possible. If there are any laboratory problems, inform your regional MassDEP PN contact.

When coliform bacteria are detected, does the clock start after the first or second sampling?

For the Revised Total Coliform Rule, if a supplier takes a routine sample and it is confirmed positive for E. coli, the PWS must notify MassDEP by the end of the same day that it is notified by the laboratory. The PWS must also collect a set of repeat samples within 24 hours of being notified by the laboratory. If a repeat sample is total coliform positive, this is an acute Tier 1 violation. The clock starts when the water supplier learns of the repeat sample being total coliform positive since this is the time of the violation.


Will MassDEP provide templates for other violations that were not listed among the current templates?

In some cases other templates may be developed according to need and placed on our Web site.

Public notification templates can be found on Public Notification Forms and Templates page here.

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