The new chemical and water security law would require site security plans and assessments.
The new chemical and water security law would require site security plans and assessments.

In November the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Chemical and Water Security Act of 2009 (H.R. 2868), which would require EPA to establish risk-based performance standards for utilities that serve populations of 3,300 or more. So when antiterrorism standards are reauthorized this year, water and wastewater operations likely will be included for the first time.

Treatment plants would have to meet the same standards as their counterparts in, say, the chemical and plastics manufacturing industries. Managers would have to review the safety of their treatment processes and procedures, and consider alternatives — such as switching from chlorine gas to liquid chlorine — that could limit the consequences of a terrorist attack. Plant employees would be required to help develop security plans.

“Utilities will have to conduct site security plans and assessments no matter what, and especially the ones with chlorine gas will have to demonstrate that security is adequate,” says Alan Roberson, director of security and regulatory affairs for the American Water Works Association (AWWA). He acknowledges that the legislation likely will result in increased rates to offset capital improvements. “But overall it provides a lot of people with a better feeling of safety and security.”

The good news is that facilities will be able to tap into $1 billion in grants over five years to help pay for assessments. And that it'll take EPA two to three years to finalize the details of the rule — and then it's up to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish risk tiers.

The bill was one of several introduced last year that sought to include water and wastewater facilities in antiterrorism standards. The water and wastewater industries wanted security to be overseen by one federal agency, but “some of the proposals would have had water treatment under the EPA and wastewater treatment under DHS,” explains Carl Myers, assistant director of government affairs at the Water Environment Federation.