Your paper took a close look at the nation's regulatory system for protecting drinking water and found flaws ["Lead Levels in Water Misrepresented Across U.S.; Utilities Manipulate or Withhold Test Results to Ward Off Regulators," front page, Oct. 5]. However, the article missed the key policy point.

The flaws found are a result of the country's uniform regulatory compliance program, which is too complex and arbitrary to handle local, individual problems. Instead of promoting the most progressive public health plan in every community, the program relies on strict adherence to static, uniform and arbitrary regulations. The result is a mandated federal policy that is not always consistent with the best local public health policy. In other words, the result is a federal requirement for compliance regardless of its relationship to public health.

The Post's reporters, and the Environmental Protection Agency regulators and environmentalists they quoted, fail to see that improving drinking water in local communities is more of a resource problem than a regulatory problem. The key to finding the best public health policy is for it to be derived, supported and controlled by the people who benefit from safe drinking water and have to pay for the service. That is the purpose of locally elected governments. Consumers should not be frightened into sacrificing their "right" to self-governance to the unelected.

Taking authority away from local people and transferring it to unaccountable federal bureaucracies would only compound the problem. More arbitrary regulation, which treats every water supply the same, is guaranteed to fail because it can't possibly manage each community and its unique set of circumstances.

The Post article found a low priority given overall to enforcement of safe drinking water laws -- implying that more enforcement would be beneficial.

However, how does a fine help a low-income family or community afford the necessary treatment and training to deal with improving their water?

The article also found that the EPA "devotes four times the staff to enforcing the laws that govern sewage released into rivers and lakes as it does to safeguarding the nation's drinking water supply." This conclusion shows a lack of understanding of local governmental authorities, because releasing pollution from a sewer system is fundamentally different than a community trying to afford and provide drinking water service for itself. Of course the federal government should treat them very differently. In the case of the release of sewage downstream, the affected community has no control over the offending community. In the case of drinking water treatment, the community has 100 percent control over the treatment.

-- Mike Keegan

Washington

The writer is a policy analyst for the National Rural Water Association.