Few people can deny that the quality of groundwater, which eventually finds its way into our drinking glasses, should be held to the highest standards.

Unfortunately, in its zeal to push for mining reform and federal regulations, a Washington group known as the Mineral Policy Center has overstated some recent problems in Utah. In doing so, it has inadvertently demonstrated why greater federal control of water quality is a bad idea.The group's recently released report titled "States' Rights, Miners' Wrongs," said Utah is ill-equipped to regulate the quality of water around its mines. To demonstrate this claim, the report cites a $12,000 fine levied against Tooele's Mercur Mine for a 250,000 gallon spill of cyanide waste water two years ago as being too lenient. It also cites problems with the state's attempts to settle claims against Kennecott for only $12 million.

In both cases, the report demonstrates a lack of full understanding.

The Mercur spill was indeed unfortunate. However, it could have been much worse. The spill occurred during the winter and caused virtually no damage to groundwater or surface water. Perhaps the fine could have been stronger, but the damage was negligible.

The report also exaggerates the size of the Kennecott incident, which involved a plume of contaminated groundwater that threatened culinary sources. And it incorrectly notes that the state's proposed settlement in the case would release Kennecott from liability for cleaning the mess.

Both spills are serious matters, as are all incidents that threaten the state's water supply. But the Mineral Policy Center, a think tank whose goal is to reform the mining law, has failed to adequately demonstrate that Utah is incapable of handling such problems.

Utah's government has improved its ability to monitor water quality in recent years. It has cooperative agreements with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Forest Service and various county governments to inspect mines, contrary to the report's assertion that the state has only four inspectors who can't keep up with the demand.

And, perhaps most important, it is the government closest to the problem.

While some reform of the 122-year-old federal mining law may be needed, the introduction of greater federal controls over water is not. As the report demonstrates, an arrogant think tank in Washington or an arrogant federal government headquartered more than 2,000 miles away can sometimes get things wrong.