AWWA: Senate Security Bill Needs Local-Decision Power

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) advised the U.S. Congress that any new chemical security legislation should reflect the need for local water experts to make key treatment decisions and protect sensitive information from non-essential personnel.

In a statement to the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, AWWA stressed that “it does not make sense (and could cause harm) to legislate outcomes which prohibit the use of particular chemicals, including chlorine gas.” The letter was submitted concurrent with a committee hearing on “Chemical Security: Assessing Progress and Charting a Path Forward.”

“As everyday guardians of public health and safety, water and wastewater professionals share Congress’s desire for smart chemical security policy,” said AWWA Deputy Executive Director Tom Curtis. “Water utilities are committed to measures that reduce risks from terrorism and natural disasters. We are equally committed to protecting drinking water from the risk of contamination.”

A bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in the fall, H.R. 2868, would create a new chemical security program for water and wastewater utilities under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security providing input for the new regulatory process. The bill would place final decision on which materials – primarily disinfectants – or processes a water utility may use outside of the local community and with already under-resourced state drinking water primacy agencies.

AWWA is urging members of Congress to support legislation that applies to water utilities only if it:

  • recognizes that decisions concerning utility choice of disinfectant are complex, are based on critical local factors, and are not a matter of simple substitution of one disinfectant for another;
  • retains local decision-making authority using processes that give due consideration to all risks; and
  • provides adequate protection of sensitive information. Personnel (including collective bargaining agents) who are not water system employees, their contractors, or government agents, should not have access to or be involved in the development of vulnerability assessments or site security plans.

The letter notes that water and wastewater utilities have a long history of handling chemicals and that the water sector addressed a broad range of security concerns through vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans required by the Public Health Protection and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002. It also highlights some of AWWA’s security-related efforts, including the development of security standards and guidance and the creation of water and wastewater agency response networks.

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