Chemical Security Measure Approved by House, Moves to Senate

The House of Representatives has passed a bill to better protect chemical facilities, drinking water, and wastewater treatment plants from terrorist attacks.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

The House of Representatives has passed a bill to better protect chemical facilities, drinking water, and wastewater treatment plants from terrorist attacks. It approved the Chemical and Water Security Act in a 230 to 193 vote. The bill now goes to the Senate.

The legislation reauthorizes the Department of Homeland Security's Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards program, which was due to expire in October 2010. It also authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency to establish similar security programs for drinking water and wastewater facilities.

The risk-based program requires chemical facilities, drinking water plants, and water treatment works to assess their vulnerability to terrorist attacks and implement appropriate countermeasures.

Drinking water and wastewater facilities would have to update their vulnerability assessments, emergency response plans, and site security plans every five years. Those that use hazardous chemicals (such as gaseous chlorine) must consider alternative processes but would not necessarily be compelled to use them. State agencies will review their decisions, but the utility could appeal an adverse state ruling.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, said the bill would "reduce the risk that chemicals used by our own chemical facilities are turned against us through terrorist attack and other intentional acts."

Meanwhile, The Water Sector Coordinating Council was surveying utilities about their water security preparations. The alliance of drinking water and wastewater associations planned to issue a report in January.

Global Warming Bill

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee has passed a global warming bill to establish a greenhouse gas emissions "cap-and-trade" program. The legislation also included several water efficiency provisions.

The seven Republicans on the committee boycotted the bill's markup and approval. Eleven Democrats voted for the legislation and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) opposed it.

The Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act would reauthorize EPA's WaterSense program, which encourages the labeling of water-efficient products and services. The bill also directs federal agencies to purchase water-efficient products when possible. It authorizes federal grants for programs giving consumers incentives to buy water-efficient products and services.

Also, the bill would allow drinking water and wastewater utilities to compete for some carbon emission allowance funds that are reserved for state programs.

Separately, the National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) released a study estimating that climate change could cost wastewater and drinking water utilities between $448 billion and $944 billion through 2050.

The report stressed that those preliminary estimates could dramatically shift as the impact of climate change on water resources becomes more apparent in the future.

"Now is the time to establish policies, invest in research, and provide support so that water and wastewater utilities can begin to plan the necessary adaptation strategies needed to confront the inevitable impacts of climate change," the report stated.

The study said the impacts could include a sea level rise that would inundate facilities; water quality degradation; water shortages; and low flows during droughts that would hamper the operation of treatment facilities.

ARRA Report

The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reported that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed earlier this year, has launched $1.8 billion in projects through the Clean Water State Revolving Fund.

The $787 billion economic stimulus package included $4 billion for wastewater projects and $2 billion for drinking water projects.

The committee said EPA has distributed to the states $3.98 billion of the $4 billion that the law authorized for the Clean Water fund. The states administer the funds to support drinking water and wastewater projects.

As of Sept. 30, the committee said 873 projects totaling $1.8 billion have been put out to bid in 43 states. Of those, 530 projects (totaling $1.1 billion) are already under contract and work has begun on 394 of them (totaling $872 million).

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) testified at the hearing. It said a permanent fund is needed to provide long-term, sustainable funding for clean water infrastructure improvements.

US Water Usage

The U.S. Geological Survey has reported that despite a 30% increase in the U.S. population during the past 25 years, water usage has remained stable.

The report said Americans used 410 billion gallons per day in 2005, slightly less than in 2000 -- when the last survey was made -- and down sharply from the peak years of 1975 and 1980. USGS said the decline was due to more efficient use of water by irrigation systems and power plants.

The Interior Department agency said 49% of the 410 billion gallons per day was used for producing electricity at thermoelectric power plants. Irrigation accounted for 31% and public supply 11%. The remaining 9% was for self-supplied industrial, livestock, aquaculture, mining and rural domestic uses.

Assistant Interior Secretary Anne Castle said, "Because electricity generation and irrigation together accounted for a massive 80% of our water use in 2005, improvements in efficiency and technology give us hope for the future. The report also underscores the importance of recognizing the limits of the drinking water supplies on which our growing population depends."

The USGS said California, Texas, Florida and Idaho together accounted for more than one-fourth of all fresh and saline water withdrawn in the U.S.

USGS said freshwater withdrawals in 2005 (surface and groundwater) were 85% of the total water use, with the balance coming from saline sources. Fresh groundwater withdrawals in 2005 were about 5% less than in the last survey, in 2000. Fresh surface-water withdrawals were about the same as in 2000.

In developments at EPA:

– Administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency is developing a plan to improve enforcement of Clean Water Act regulations. It will focus on the most significant water-quality threats, including pollution from animal feed lots, sewer overflows, industrial facilities, construction sites, and urban streets.

– EPA was proposing to extend the 2008 stormwater construction general permit by one year to June 30, 2011,in the five states where it is the permitting authority (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Idaho and Alaska). It is revising the permit with new effluent limits.

– The agency has issued a final rule setting standards for aircraft drinking water. It includes coliform sampling, best management practices, monitoring, and operator training.

–EPA said planned to reexamine atrazine in drinking water. It will ask a science advisory panel to evaluate the cancer and non-cancer effects of atrazine based on animal and studies as well as epidemiology studies.

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