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Friday, January 28, 2011

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

Mary Tiemann
Specialist in Environmental Policy

The events of September 11, 2001, focused 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. However, water facilities have not been required to address identified risks and vulnerabilities, and recent Congresses have considered legislation to mandate such actions.

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. In most years since FY2002, Congress appropriated roughly $5 million 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 109
th 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 111
th Congress, interest in extending and expanding security requirements for the chemical facility sector continued, as has debate over whether to include certain water utilities within the scope of such requirements. House-passed H.R. 2868 would have imposed new security requirements on drinking water and wastewater utilities, while retaining EPA’s regulatory authority for water sector utilities. The substitute version of H.R. 2868 reported by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs excluded water utilities and proposed to extend DHS chemical facility authority for three years, create voluntary technical assistance and training programs, and create a best practices clearinghouse.

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 impose new 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 10, 2011
Number of Pages: 23
Order Number: RL31294
Price: $29.95

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