Utilities urged to communicate with state agencies, federal representatives regarding risk reduction.
Water and wastewater utilities may soon be subject to Chemical Facility Anti-Terrorism Standards (CFATS) or similar regulations.
Created by a congressional mandate in 2007, CFATS specifically exempted public water systems and water-treatment works. However, in early 2011, testimony before a Senate committee recommended eliminating those exemptions.
"Undersecretary Rand Beers of the National Protection & Programs Directorate in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) testified for ending the exemption," says R.J. Hope, department manager for Burns & McDonnell global security services. "Some legislators have also called for increased oversight of water and wastewater operations as a security measure."
Under CFATS, any operation that possesses, or plans to possess, a quantity of chemicals determined to be dangerous or potentially dangerous must follow a defined compliance process. The process includes inventory, reporting, assessments and security plan requirements according to a tiered system. The trigger for the CFATS compliance process is possession of one or more of 322 listed chemicals of interest. Chlorine, commonly used in water and wastewater treatment, is one of the listed chemicals.
Utilities Will Bear Compliance Costs
New regulations for water utilities are expected to be more narrowly focused than CFATS, with emphasis on regulating large-scale storage of a smaller number of chemicals. But compliance requirements could be similar for documentation, inspections, and security plan development and implementation. Nearly all utilities would have to self-fund compliance activities, adding to the financial concerns of municipal departments strapped with costs to maintain or update aging systems.
DHS has estimated that submitting required CFATS information via its web-based interface tool takes up to 600 man-hours. That's in addition to the time and expense involved in implementing security plans and documenting ongoing compliance.
Inherently Safer Technologies Reduce Risk
According to Burns & McDonnell senior associate engineer Craig Koenig, some water utilities are taking a proactive approach. "Some have already been conducting assessments," Koenig says. "Others are taking the next step and beginning to develop master plans for minimizing risk. This allows utilities to plan and budget over time rather than having to react to a regulatory deadline."
Koenig says there are alternatives to maintaining large supplies of dangerous chemicals such as chlorine gas. Known as inherently safer technologies, or ISTs, these disinfection methods may include less-hazardous chemicals such as on-site generation of sodium hypochlorite, or non-chemical methods such as ultraviolet disinfection.
Input from Utilities Needed to Shape Regulations
"We may not know the final form, but we do know that water security regulations are on the way," Koenig says. "As regulations are developed, it's important for utilities to give feedback to their state regulatory agencies and federal representatives on what steps would most effectively improve security and on the actions they are already taking to reduce risk."