The report also found that about 4 million people "get water from small operators who skipped required tests or did not conduct the tests properly, violating a cornerstone of federal safe drinking water laws," the reporters write. "The testing is required because, without it, utilities, regulators and people drinking the water can't know if it's safe." (USA Today map: Percentage of each state's small water-utility customers who draw water from a system that has failed to properly test for lead since 2010)
One problem is that regulators have a history of leniency "with small water systems because they lack resources, deeming some lost causes when they don’t have the money, expertise or motivation to fix problems," the reporters write. "The nation’s Safe Drinking Water Act allows less-trained, often amateur, people to operate tiny water systems even though the risks for people drinking the water are the same."