Utility Guidance for Compliance With America's Water Infrastructure Act

Emergency response plan deadlines are nearing for compliance with America’s Water Infrastructure Act. Here's how to get on track.

Utility Guidance for Compliance With America's Water Infrastructure Act

We can all agree water is critical to public health, safety and welfare. The recent passage of the America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) in October 2018 underscores the importance of protecting our nation’s water supplies and requires we take action now.

The concept of completing a formal vulnerability assessment (VA) and emergency response plan (ERP) for a community’s water system dates back to the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. Early VAs and ERPs were typically developed using a terrorism threat basis, while more likely threats were often not considered, and resiliency was ignored entirely. Best practices were dependent on which “expert” was developing them, generally without consideration for the business or operational needs of the water utility. Ultimately, few utilities implemented the recommendations of their original VAs and the documents quickly became obsolete.

The events of the last decade have demonstrated the need for a more holistic, all-hazards approach — one that doesn’t just focus on a terrorism threat basis, but incorporates a variety of other potential malevolent and natural hazard based threats to our water infrastructure.

Prior to the signing of AWIA 2018, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) understood the need for a more comprehensive approach to water system resilience and published a series of standards, including J100, G300, and G430, which provide guidance on addressing potential risks to water systems assets and operations. Unfortunately, very few utilities updated their VAs and ERPs to reflect these updated guidance documents. The figure below provides a snapshot of interdependencies of the resilience related standards published by AWWA:

With adoption of the AWIA, the EPA is establishing the need for a new holistic, all-hazards approach to water system resilience. The Act requires communities serving more than 3,300 customers to complete a comprehensive risk and resilience assessment (RRA), followed by updates to their ERP. The RRAs and ERP updates must consider and address physical security, operational procedures, water system configuration, cybersecurity, natural hazards and other relevant factors that contribute to the overall reliability and resiliency of a water system.

If qualifying utilities do not complete the RRA and ERP by the designated dates (shown in Table 1) they will incur a fine of up to $25,000 a day, enforceable by the EPA under Section 1414 of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). To avoid this penalty, a utility must complete the required efforts and submit a certified letter to EPA acknowledging completion of their RRA and ERP by the deadlines shown below.

While there are several approaches to achieving AWIA compliance, per AWIA Section 2013(a), the final RRA must address, at a minimum:

  • Malevolent acts and natural hazards;
  • Resilience of the pipes and constructed conveyances, physical barriers, source water, water collection and intake, pretreatment, treatment, storage and distribution facilities, electronic, computer or other automated systems;
  • Monitoring practices;
  • Financial infrastructure;
  • System dependencies;
  • Use, storage or handling of various chemicals; and
  • Operation and maintenance.

After completing the RRA and submitting a certified letter to EPA (no later than the compliance deadline), the water utility must complete updates to its ERP, based on the threats identified in the RRA, within six months. Per AWIA Section 2013(b) the ERP updates must address, at a minimum:

  • Strategies and resources to improve the resilience of the system;
  • Plans, procedures and tools that can be implemented in the event of a malevolent act or natural hazard;
  • Actions, procedures and equipment which can obviate or significantly lessen the impact of a malevolent act or natural hazard; and
  • Strategies that can aid in the detection of malevolent acts or natural hazards to the water system.

While the 2018 AWIA legislation doesn’t specifically address several important considerations, such as follow-on implementation, wastewater systems assets and ERP testing and validation, the above requirements provide a solid foundation for creating more resilient water systems.


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