Industry Association Also Calls on States to Amend 'Sunshine' Laws
The American Water Works Association (AWWA) announced recommendations for public water systems to comply with the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act (H.R. 3448) signed by President Bush. The Act includes significant new requirements for water utilities, intended to better prepare the nation for another terrorist attack.
Title IV of the Act requires water utilities serving more than 3,300 people to conduct vulnerability assessments to include a review of pipes and constructed conveyances; physical barriers; water collection, pretreatment, treatment, and storage and distribution facilities.
The completion dates for vulnerability assessments for systems serving the indicated population categories are as follows:
* 100,000 or more - March 31, 2003
* 50,000 or more but less than 100,000 - December 31, 2003
* Greater than 3,300 but less than 50,000 - June 30, 2004
Information contained in the vulnerability assessment is exempt from the Federal Freedom of Information Act disclosure. However, AWWA has notified its member utilities that information in vulnerability assessments may be discussed with state and local officials, given to Congress upon request, used in administrative or judicial proceedings, or in other regulatory proceedings.
"Clearly, we need to ensure that vulnerability assessments not be subject to disclosure that would enable this information to fall into the wrong hands. We are calling on states to ensure that vulnerability assessments are afforded complete protection under state and local 'sunshine' laws," said Tom Curtis, deputy executive director of AWWA. "Utilities are urged to work for and support amendments to state and local laws designed to protect vulnerability assessments from disclosure. It comes down to an issue of national security."
AWWA's 4,500 water utility members serve 80 percent of the US population -- about 8,000 utilities would be required to prepare assessments under the new law. AWWA estimates that $450 million is needed to conduct vulnerability assessments in those utilities, and an additional $1.6 billion will be needed to immediately restrict access to water treatment plants and other property through better fences, locks, alarms, etc. This does not include the cost of capital-intensive security upgrades that may be identified as a result of the assessment process. The Act authorizes $160 million in 2002 and such sums as may be necessary for 2003 through 2005 for drinking water utilities to conduct vulnerability assessments, revise emergency response plans and make security upgrades.
"These assessments need to be completed quickly and thoroughly," continued Curtis. "Congress should make sure that funding is available to develop these assessments on the ambitious schedule it has required."
Public water systems serving a population greater than 3,300 or more are also required to certify to EPA that the system has completed or revised an Emergency Response Plan (ERP) that incorporates the results of the vulnerability assessments. The ERP shall include plans, procedures, and identification of equipment that can be used in the event of a terrorist or other intentional attack on a public water system.