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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Safeguarding the Nation’s Drinking Water: EPA and Congressional Actions

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy

The events of September 11, 2001, focused heightened attention on the security status of the nation's drinking water supplies and the vulnerability of this critical infrastructure sector to attack. Congress since has enacted security requirements for public water systems and has provided funding for vulnerability assessments, emergency planning, and drinking water research. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the lead federal agency for the water sector, has worked with water utilities, state and local governments, and federal agencies to improve the drinking water security. 

The Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (P.L. 107- 188) amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to require some 8,400 community water systems to assess vulnerabilities and prepare emergency response plans. It authorized funding for these activities and for emergency grants to states and utilities, and it directed EPA to review methods to prevent, detect, and respond to threats to water safety and infrastructure security. The act did not require water systems to make security upgrades to address potential vulnerabilities. Since FY2002, Congress has appropriated funds annually for EPA to work with states and the water sector to improve the security of drinking water supplies. 

In creating the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with the Homeland Security Act of 2002 (P.L. 107-296), Congress gave DHS responsibility for assessing and protecting the nation's critical infrastructures. However, the act did not transfer EPA's water security functions, and the 2003 Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-7) affirmed EPA's lead role in protecting the water infrastructure. Under this directive, EPA has responsibility for developing and providing tools and training on improving security to roughly 52,000 community water systems and 16,000 municipal wastewater treatment facilities. 

In the 109th Congress, the Department of Homeland Security FY2007 appropriations act (P.L. 109-295) authorized DHS to regulate for three years high-risk chemical facilities, but the law excluded from coverage drinking water and wastewater treatment facilities. 

In the 111th Congress, interest in extending and expanding security requirements for the chemical facility sector continues, as does the debate over whether to include certain water utilities within the scope of such requirements. House-passed H.R. 2868 would revise and codify security requirements for chemical facilities and impose new security requirements on drinking water and wastewater utilities. The bill would give EPA regulatory authority for water and wastewater utilities. 

Although EPA, states, localities, and water utilities have taken steps to address security concerns, the security of the nation's water supplies has continued to attract congressional attention. Issues have included the status of efforts by the water sector to improve security, whether to increase federal requirements, funding needs for water systems to make security improvements, the relative roles and responsibilities of EPA and DHS regarding the water sector, and the status of research and development of technologies to help water systems detect and address potential biological and chemical contaminants. This report reviews governmental and water utility efforts to improve drinking water security.

Date of Report: January 20, 2010
Number of Pages: 21
Order Number: RL31294
Price: $29.95

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