Association Testifies Against Chemical Security Measure

April 1, 2010
The American Water Works Association has told Congress that new chemical security legislation should allow local authorities to make key water treatment decisions and protect sensitive information from non-essential personnel.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The American Water Works Association has told Congress that new chemical security legislation should allow local authorities to make key water treatment decisions and protect sensitive information from non-essential personnel.

In a statement to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, AWWA said, "It does not make sense (and could cause harm) to legislate outcomes which prohibit the use of particular chemicals, including chlorine gas." The committee held a hearing on chemical security in early March.

AWWA Deputy Executive Director Tom Curtis, said, "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."

Last fall, the House of Representatives passed a bill (H.R. 2868) which would create a chemical security program for water and wastewater utilities under the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) providing input.

That bill would let state drinking water agencies make the final decisions on which materials -- primarily disinfectants – or processes that local water utilities could use.

The Senate has not acted yet on the House-passed bill. Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Me.) has filed a bill to extend the DHS' chemical facility anti-terrorism standards for 5 years – and retain the current exemption for drinking water and wastewater facilities. The legislation (S. 2996) would not require the utilities to consider or adopt "inherently safer" water treatment technologies.

AWWA said any legislation should recognize that utility' decisions concerning disinfectants are complex, are based on local factors, and are not a matter of simple substitution of one disinfectant for another. It said those decisions should be made at the local level.

"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," it said.

AWWA noted that water and wastewater utilities have a long history of handling chemicals and that the water sector addressed a broad range of security concerns in vulnerability assessments and emergency response plans required by 2002 federal bio-terrorism preparedness legislation.

Unfunded Mandates

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has revived legislation to help small drinking water systems comply with "unfunded" federal mandates for improvements.

Inhofe is the senior Republican on the Democratic-controlled Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Cosponsors of the bill were Sens. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), John Barrasso (R-Wyo), David Vitter (R-La.), and James Risch (R-Idaho). The last several Congresses failed to pass similar bills.

Inhofe said, "There are simply too many regulations coming out of Washington that come with a steep price tag for local communities. Forcing systems to raise rates beyond what their ratepayers can afford only causes more damage than good."

The senator said EPA assumes that families can afford water rates of 2.5% of their annual median household income, or $1,000 per household, but that paying $83 a month for water is a hardship for disadvantaged families. The bill directs EPA to consider additional factors when making the determination what utility customers can afford to pay.

The legislation would have the federal government pay for state and local governments' expenses to comply with federal laws ("unfunded mandates").

"The bill is designed to ensure that EPA cannot take an enforcement action against a system serving less than 10,000 people, without first ensuring that it [the system] has sufficient funds to meet the requirements of the regulation," Inhofe said.

USGS Well Study

A U.S. Geological Survey study has identified how some contaminants may reach public water-supply wells.

The report said all water supply wells are not equally vulnerable to contamination because of differences in general chemistry of the aquifer, groundwater age, and flow paths within aquifer systems.

It said more than 100 million people in the U.S. draw drinking water from public groundwater systems, which can be vulnerable to naturally occurring contaminants such as radon, uranium, arsenic, and man-made compounds, including fertilizers, septic-tank leachate, solvents and gasoline hydrocarbons.

USGS has been working since 1991 to study the occurrence of more than 600 naturally occurring and man-made chemicals from more than 1,100 wells used for public supply across the nation. It said chemicals are frequently detected, but seldom at concentrations likely to affect human health.

The latest USGS study tracked the movement of contaminants in groundwater and in public-supply wells at aquifers in California, Connecticut, Nebraska and Florida.

Sandra Eberts, the study team leader, said the USGS findings can help public-supply well managers prioritize their monitoring programs and improve decisions related to land use planning, well modifications, and pumping scenarios.

For instance, USGS found that agricultural and urban developments have enabled uranium to move to the upper part of the aquifer in the Central Valley near Modesto, Calif. As a result of the USGS findings, public-supply well managers have modified their pumping schedules to reduce the volumes of contaminated water pulled from the aquifer.

In other Washington news:

– The EPA Inspector General reported that the agency has failed to provide adequate guidance to help states determine which water infrastructure projects qualify for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding for green projects.

– Nancy Stoner, former co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Water Program, has been nominated to be the deputy assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Water. Stoner worked in EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in 1997-99.

– EPA will hold concurrent workshops in New York City and San Francisco June 8-10 on research and management responses to the impact of climate change on water quality and quantity.

– The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee has criticized the U.S. Corps of Engineers' implementation of the 2007 Water Resources Development Act. A committee report said the Corps has been slow to implement reforms required by the law.

– EPA has boosted funding by $34.2 million for wastewater and drinking water infrastructure projects in Guam, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa. It said for the first time, those territories will get funding comparable to what the states receive.

– The International Bottled Water Association said the average weight of the 16.9 ounce "single serve" plastic water bottle has dropped by 32.6% from 18.9 grams in 2000 to 12.7 grams in 2008. The bottled water industry has been criticized because often the bottles are not recycled.

– EPA has launched a pilot grant program to let three states (New York, Maryland and California) use their Clean Water State Revolving Fund loans to better support communities that adopt sustainable strategies, such as transit-oriented, mixed-use development.

– The Water Environment Federation and the International Water Association said 122,599 people on six continents monitored the condition of their local streams, rivers, lakes on and other water bodies last year, up 67% from the previous year. The groups sponsor World Water Monitoring Day each Sept. 18. WW

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