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The American Water Works Association (AWWA), the authoritative resource on safe drinking water, today called upon the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Congress, and the States to ensure that water system vulnerability assessments are fully protected from public disclosure. AWWA also urged that the Bioterrorism Preparedness Bill (H.R. 3448) be adequately funded in order to effectively assess and upgrade America's drinking water systems.
Legislation approved yesterday by the House of Representatives requires water utilities to prepare 'vulnerability assessments' to identify how they might be attacked by terrorists. Those assessments must be provided to EPA and may be requested by Congress. Federal officials may not disclose the contents of vulnerability assessments to unauthorized individuals, but states may request a copy and the assessments are not protected by many state "sunshine" laws.
"We have long known that water utilities are critical to the nation's security. Congress has recognized that as well in the bioterrorism bill. Now, though, it is essential that additional steps be taken to ensure absolute protection for the utility vulnerability assessments that are required to be provided to EPA," said Tom Curtis, deputy executive director of AWWA. "The next step is for states to ensure that vulnerability assessments are afforded complete protection under state and local 'sunshine' laws," Curtis continued. "Then Congress needs to make sure that the protection provisions of the federal law are strictly enforced. Finally, Congress should make sure that funding is available to develop these assessments on the ambitious schedule it has required."
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.
"Although the potential for an attack on a water system may be remote, we know utilities aren't invincible. We need to err on the side of protecting public health and safety," said Curtis. "That means doing these assessments carefully, and also protecting them from inappropriate disclosure. These assessments could potentially be dangerous if in the wrong hands. It comes down to an issue of national security."
AWWA is the authoritative resource for knowledge, information and advocacy to improve the quality and supply of drinking water in North America and beyond. AWWA is the largest organization of water professionals in the world. AWWA advances public health, safety and welfare by uniting the efforts of the full spectrum of the drinking water community. Through our collective strength we become better stewards of water for the greatest good of the people and the environment.