Yesterday, US House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman along with Energy and Environment Subcommittee Chairman Edward J. Markey, introduced the Drinking Water System Security Act of 2009 with the support of drinking water utilities and environmental and labor groups. This bill would require EPA to establish risk-based performance standards for community water systems serving more than 3,300 people and certain other public water systems with security risks. In 2006, as part of the Homeland Security Appropriations bill, Congress authorized the Department of Homeland Security to issue chemical facility security regulations that exempted drinking water and wastewater facilities. The Drinking Water System Security Act authorizes EPA to strengthen security at drinking water systems in the United States under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
The legislation would:
Require EPA to assign covered water systems to one of four risk-based tiers, ranging from tier 1, the highest-risk systems, to tier 4, the lowest-risk of the covered water systems. Require covered water systems to identify vulnerabilities and develop site security plans to addresses those vulnerabilities and meet risk-based security standards, which vary by tier. Require all covered water systems with dangerous chemicals in amounts higher than federal thresholds to assess whether they can switch to safer chemicals or processes to reduce the consequences of an act of terrorism. Since the states implement the Safe Drinking Water Act everywhere but Wyoming and Washington, D.C., states have authority to require facilities in the two highest-risk tiers to switch to safer chemicals or processes if technologically and economically feasible, and if doing so will not result in unsafe drinking water. Require that covered water systems include employees in the development of security vulnerability assessments and site security plans and that they receive the training necessary to perform their duties under the plans. Require EPA to develop standards to protect security-related information while encouraging the proper sharing of this information among those with an official need to know. The bill would set criminal penalties for purposeful, unlawful disclosure of this protected information. The legislation has key support from the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) and numerous environmental and labor groups also have endorsed the bill, including Clean Water Action, Earthjustice, The Ecology Center of Ann Arbor, MI, Environment America, Environmental Health Fund, Environmental Health Strategy Center of Maine, Greenpeace, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), New Jersey Work Environment Council, OMB Watch, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club, United Steelworkers, and U.S. PIRG.
Although this bill is not directly related to the Great Lakes, there are opportunities for Michigan based universities and community colleges to monitor this bill as it provides grant opportunities to conduct research, workforce training or technical assistance to "covered water systems." As Michigan continues to identify industries to help diversify our economy, we should look to our role as stewards to the largest fresh water source in the world to potentially benefit from this legislation.