Award Date

May 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Public Policy and Leadership

First Committee Member

Jayce Farmer

Second Committee Member

Krystyna Stave

Third Committee Member

Christopher Stream

Fourth Committee Member

Shawn McCoy

Number of Pages



An institutional dilemma exists between the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). US surface waters are protected from point-source pollution by the CWA. Community Water Systems (CWSs) that draw from these surface waters for potable purposes are required to treat that water to a level that meets SDWA health standards. Therefore, decreases in CWA regulations could lead to surface water quality declines and, thus, higher SDWA compliance costs for CWSs. This area of inquiry has become increasingly relevant due to Trump-era executive actions to try to decrease the federal government's role in multiple environmental policies, including the CWA. In this dissertation, a prominent CWA rollback from the Trump-era is used as a test to examine (1) whether federal compliance enforcement rollbacks result in increased SDWA non-compliance by local government-owned CWSs, and (2) whether institutional arrangements at the state and local level protect against adverse source quality effects of a federal rollback. The transaction costs of contested federalism theory is used to analyze these inquiries. This theory views local governments as being nested within state and federal institutional arrangements. Policy adoptions at the federal level that are not aligned with state and local government needs are expected to generate transaction costs that hinder the implementation of government policies at the state and local levels. This study uses the difference-in-differences quasi-experimental statistical approach to deduce whether temporary EPA rollback of CWA enforcement requirements impacted local government SDWA compliance. Overall, the results indicate that local government CWSs sourcing from surface water experienced significantly higher SDWA health violations after the federal CWA rollback. Furthermore, multiple state and local institutional factors emerged as significant moderators of the CWA rollback's effect on local governments.Overall, this study's findings shed light on the CWA-SDWA institutional dilemma, and how a federal rollback of CWA enforcement responsibility to state governments impacts local level SDWA implementation. Additionally, this study identified key institutional factors that buffered or amplified the CWA rollback effect. This study's results provide theoretical and practical insights to the literature. Theoretically, this study’s results provide association-based evidence that misaligned federal environmental policy led to poor environmental policy implementation outcomes at the local level. This finding has key implications for US environmental federalism literature. The results of this study suggest that a formal institutional linkage between the CWA and SDWA would help ensure future CWA changes account for the potential impacts they will have on local SDWA compliance. In sum, this study's findings suggest that rollbacks in CWA enforcement can adversely affect local drinking water administration. However, states and local governments can take preventative measures to overcome these effects.


Natural Resources Management and Policy | Public Administration | Public Affairs, Public Policy and Public Administration | Public Policy

Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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