Vanderbilt Law Review


Pamela King

First Page



Although groundwater is one of our most vital natural resources, it is perhaps the least protected. Over half of the total United States population-nearly 117 million people-depends on groundwater reservoirs, or aquifers, as its source of drinking water. Industry looks to groundwater for twenty-six percent of its water needs, and two-thirds of all groundwater is used in agriculture. In addition, groundwater reenters oceans, lakes, and rivers to supply nearly one-third of the flow of surface water in the United States.

Presently, underground water sources are contaminated in all fifty states. This pollution is the by-product of a vast array of personal, industrial, and governmental activities.' In 1988 Congress proposed ten different bills to increase groundwater protection, Currently, eight different statutes attempt to protect groundwater."

This Note examines the effect of current legislation on the supply of underground drinking water, addresses the federal judiciary's treatment of statutory violations, and details new legislative proposals for the protection of groundwater.

Part II discusses the lack of enforcement of current protective provisions and the specialized nature of ground-water that makes contamination a major problem. Part III outlines the current statutory scheme for the protection of this natural resource with special emphasis on the Safe Drinking Water Act. Part IV examines the provisions in these current statutes intended to increase enforcement and keep federal violators in check.

Part IV also discusses how narrowly the courts have interpreted the citizen suit provisions and waivers of sovereign immunity in these statutes and how those interpretations have contributed to the inadequate protection of groundwater.

Part V details proposed legislation that is intended to strengthen re-search efforts and to provide a comprehensive program covering only groundwater.

Part VI concludes that a comprehensive groundwater protection program is needed, but will have only limited success if the judiciary continues to favor one of the largest polluters of groundwater, the federal government, against state protection and management policies.