Water utilities, both drinking water and wastewater, play a crucial role in the health and well-being of our nation and its citizens. They are major contributors to the high standard of living and health enjoyed by Americans, and our dependency on them and the services they supply cannot be overstated. More than ever, we now need to protect our water utilities. Water security has become a prime concern today and will remain a top priority in years to come.
The EPA is the sector-specific agency for infrastructure protection of our nation’s water utilities. Water utilities have been key stakeholders and partners in EPA’s efforts to safeguard water infrastructure. These efforts have predominantly focused on three main areas—vulnerability assessments, security improvements and emergency response plans. Water utilities first need to know their weaknesses before making any security improvements, and vulnerability assessments accomplish this goal. Additionally, no security improvement is fail-proof so water utilities should be ready to respond to any crisis through emergency response plans.
With the enactment of the “Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002” (Bioterrorism Act), drinking water utilities serving populations more than 3,300 people have undertaken vulnerability assessments and are either developing or revising their emergency response plans. These excellent efforts begin to address water security, but security efforts need to be sustained over the long-term.
Key water utility approaches aimed at sustaining long-term security include partnering, planning and practice:
Water security is here to stay. For its part, EPA will continue to improve drinking water security by focusing on the development of tools, training and technical assistance, information sharing, research and technology development. However, EPA will still need the continued partnership and support from water utilities for any successful long-term water security effort. Water utilities have a key part to play in keeping our nation’s water resources safe and secure. The security roles and issues facing water utilities may appear to be never ending, but given their vital importance, it is well worth the investment in time, effort and money.