A plan being endorsed by the EPA's National Drinking Water Advisory Council will permit small water systems carrying up to 20 parts per billion (ppb) of arsenic to put off complying with EPA standards for 14 years and allow larger systems with water containing up to 35 ppb until 2009 to comply.

Thousands of smaller water systems, many in rural states and many with arsenic levels far exceeding the standards, have complained that they lack the funds and the infrastructure needed to clean up their supplies. Supporters of the plan said it was needed in order to comply with Congress' intent that the Safe Drinking Act provide a five-year window to allow utilities to meet new arsenic standards. Some members of the council complained that the plan would cause the agency to confuse consumers by allowing utilities to exceed widely publicized arsenic standards it set down in order to protect public health.

A 1999 EPA report concluded that the country's water systems needed $103 billion immediately to ensure safe drinking water, and that $48 billion more will be required to fix broken pipes, upgrade antiquated purification systems and meet federal clean water standards.