Washington News

Water Supply Safety Becomes a Top Concern


Protection of water-supply systems has become a high priority as officials at all levels of government consider possible scenarios for future terrorist attacks on this country.


The water resources subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee scheduled hearings on protecting water supplies against terrorism, and other congressional panels are planning similar reviews.


In addition, various associations and organizations representing the water industry have been questioned by members of Congress on the adequacy of protective measures now in place.


The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, which is the water-sector coordinator for the Bush administration’s program for protecting critical infrastructure, is setting up The Water Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) as a major resource for anti-terrorism efforts. Among other functions, ISAC will alert member systems to threats, warnings and vulnerabilities, offer response and recovery suggestions, collect information on incidents related to security and be accessible via the Internet. Additional information is available at http://www.amwa.net/isac/index/html.


In response to congressional inquiries on action needed to improve security of water systems, AMWA has asked for $100 million in federal funds for large water systems to develop vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans over the next year. The association says that the funds could come from the $40 billion already authorized for anti-terrorism initiatives.


The association also is recommending a five-year, $60-million program of research projects related to security and terrorism prevention for water and wastewater systems. AMWA reports that a number of senators and representatives have expressed interest in introducing the legislation.


NLC Makes Anti-Terrorism Report Available


The National League of Cities reports that two-thirds of the larger cities it surveyed recently—population 100,000 or greater—plan to reassess their anti-terrorism plans to determine whether improvements are needed to secure the safety of vital facilities that include water systems.


Specific changes planned by some of the cities contacted for the survey include better monitoring and security for water supplies, training on response to biological and chemical poisoning and seeking government grants for terrorism training.


NLC also is making available its report, Domestic Terrorism: Resources for Local Governments, that was prepared in 2000 to help communities prevent threats to public safety and to respond to incidents.


The report can be found on the Internet at www.nlc.org/nlc_org/site/files/reports/terrorism.pdf.


EPA Will Move Ahead on Massive Cleanup


A proposed massive and highly controversial pollution-cleanup plan that has drawn more than 70,000 comments will move ahead with periodic checkpoints for determining whether it will continue.


EPA is circulating among other concerned federal agencies a draft proposal for removing up to 2.65 million cubic yards of PCB-contaminated sediment from the upper Hudson River in New York State. The substance has been linked to cancer in humans and bioaccumulates in fish, EPA says.


The agency said that General Electric Corp. had dumped polychlorinated biphenyls in the river for more than 35 years prior to the banning of the chemical in 1977. EPA said some 1.1 million pounds are thought to be deposited in the Hudson.


The long dispute over dredging, transportin, and disposal sites for the PCB-contaminated sediment centered on the question of whether the removal process would cause more environmental damage than leaving it in place.


EPA reported that many of the 70,000 comments on the dredging plan came from individuals in the affected area who are "concerned about the environmental and economic impacts of dredging."


Under the proposed plan announced by agency administrator Christie Whitman, the cleanup plan will include performance standards for determination at each stage of the project "whether it is scientifically justified to continue."


EPA will solicit additional views from affected communities on design details of the cleanup plan.


GAO Faults EPA on Storm Water Program


EPA has not established measurable goals for Phase I of the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System’s Storm Water Program, the U. S. General Accounting Office (GAO) has found.


GAO, Congress’s watchdog agency over the implementation of legislation, added in its report that neither had the environmental agency "attempted to evaluate the program’s effectiveness in reducing storm water pollution or to determine its costs."


Responding to the findings, EPA said that the problem arose from inconsistent data reporting by municipalities, insufficient staff resources, "and other competing priorities within the Office of Wastewater Management."


Phase I of the program requires more than 1,000 local governments to undertake storm water management programs.


GAO said that better data on costs and effectiveness are needed. "especially in light of the Phase II program that will involve thousands more municipalities" when it takes effect in 2003.


The watchdog agency noted that a research grant for a pilot project to analyze data from communities and develop baseline indicators "could point the way for a more comprehensive approach."


Construction Industry Opposes New ELGs


The Associated General Contractors of America is spearheading construction industry opposition to effluent limitation guidelines (ELGs) being developed by EPA.


AGC said that the effort is designed to "protect contractors from excessive requirements that could cost them thousands of dollars each year and put a significant percentage of small firms out of business."


The construction-industry association said that the standard under consideration at EPA could "dictate the erosion and sediment controls that contractors must include in their storm water pollution prevention programs."


The industry has told EPA that current pollution controls under the storm water program are sufficient to protect the environment from the runoff generated by construction sites."


Water Groups Support Farm-Bill Amendment


The Water Environment Federation (WEF) and several other major water-policy associations are backing a measure to provide $2 billion annually in payments to farmers and ranchers for environmental initiatives that include improvement of water quality.


Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., introduced the proposal The Working Lands Stewardship Act (HR 2375) as an amendment to pending legislation to reauthorize agricultural programs.


WEF said Kind’s plan would boost incentives for drinking water protection. Noting that "agriculture is one of the contributing factors for diminishment of water quality," the federation said that HR 2375 would compensate farmers who take steps to reduce the impact of fertilizer and pesticides on drinking water supplies and take steps to reduce soil erosion. The bill would also compensate animal producers who take steps to reduce the environmental impact of manure, WEF said.


Robert Gray works out of Locust Grove, Virginia; (540) 972-8326.

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