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August 11, 2009
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Government Relations

NAWC Participates in Aspen Institute Dialogue; Helps to Collaboratively Identify a Sustainable Path Toward Improving Nation’s Water Infrastructure

A milestone report published by the Aspen Institute’s Energy and Environment Program outlines how the United States’ aging and ailing water infrastructure can be restored and managed in a way that will not only be economically sustainable, but will protect the nation’s natural watershed and meet the various challenges associated with climate change, such as droughts, heavy storms and flooding events.

The report, Sustainable Water Systems: Step One – Redefining the Nation’s Infrastructure Challenge, published in early July 2009, is a result of the year-long Aspen Institute Dialogue on Sustainable Water Infrastructure in the United States, which examined the challenges that America’s drinking water and wastewater systems are now facing in maintaining and replacing their pipes, treatment plants and other critical infrastructure in the context of a changing climate. By offering 10 policy recommendations, three key principles of sustainable water infrastructure, and 20 guiding elements of water management, the report creates a sustainable path forward for the nation in delivering clean and safe drinking water for American communities while protecting the environment and the nation’s natural watershed. Read the report.

The report was the subject of a roundtable discussion on Wednesday, July 29, 2009, at the Institute’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. At the event, several of the dialogue’s participants detailed key components of the report’s recommendations, pointed to a variety of practical solutions in water infrastructure and fielded questions. Watch the video and highlights.

“We believe that the outcomes of this dialogue are really valuable for providing the bigger vision of where we need to go in terms of sustainable infrastructure,” said participant Katherine Baer, senior director of American Rivers’ Clean Water Program. “There is a broad understanding in the energy sector that we need to transform our energy use to more renewable, efficient technologies, [but] we haven’t had that similar transformative model in water infrastructure. This Dialogue helped put some of that together,” said Baer.

Wally Bishop, general manager of the Contra Costa Water District, added: “Across the table, and particularly in the small communities, there is a real need to build capacity. The report’s 20 elements can be used as a template or benchmark for governing boards, utility managers, customers and stakeholders to see how water infrastructure is being run in their area.”

Baer and Bishop were among 27 national leaders representing public and private water utilities, government water-quality and water-resource bodies, corporations, water advocacy groups, and national NGOs who collectively identified a path forward to meet those challenges in the Aspen Institute Dialogue and Sustainable Water Systems report.

The dialogue and the report set a strong precedent for the rest of the nation by emphasizing the importance of managing water infrastructure from a holistic, integrated approach that goes beyond just the pipes and treatment plants by taking into account the entire water cycle, from the natural watershed to the customers’ faucets. “We have to work to protect the water systems — protecting source-water watersheds and [incorporating] low-impact development techniques in a more integrated fashion than we have in the past,” said Baer. “All of us here may work with or know some great examples [of this] around the country, but to make these the norm instead of the exception, our group had to redefine infrastructure so everyone would consider it in that way.”

“The idea of water infrastructure, including natural systems, ecosystems and the watershed — the ‘natural infrastructure’ — implies that we’re not trying to protect just landscapes or drainages or basins,” said G. Tracy Mehan III, principle of the Cadmus Group and former EPA assistant administrator for water. “It’s more than just the natural landscape; it’s also trying to imitate it in the urban context. At the end of the day, greening up that urban landscape, trying to increase permeability through green roofs, rain gardens, increasing your forest canopy and tree cover in an urban area — these may not get us away completely from gray infrastructure, and maybe they shouldn’t, but they can certainly reduce our reliance, increase our resilience and reduce our costs, and generate multiple benefits that are pleasing to the local community and rate payers.”

The report calls on the many stakeholders in water infrastructure to share responsibility for this goal. “Elected boards, city councils, mayors, regional authorities need to educate themselves that in some cases, giving themselves a gold star because their rates are low and they have been for 10 years when in fact the infrastructure is crumbling and they’re not making investments in the right things, is not the gold star that their customers want. Sustainability, reliability and good, quality water is what the customers want,” said Bishop. “Sustainability means you take the longer view.”

Michael Deane, Executive Director of NAWC

Photography by Steve Johnson at The Aspen Institute

Other recurring themes in the roundtable conversation were the need for transparent management of water utilities, full-cost pricing of water and coordination between stakeholders. “Water is a scarce and precious resource,” said Michael Deane, executive director of the National Association of Water Companies. “And customers need transparent and efficient price signals in order to make wise decisions about how much water they use, how much water they save, and what level of service they demand as customers. In order to provide these transparent, accurate and efficient price signals, utilities need to undertake each of the elements of the sustainable path in the report.”

Additionally, stakeholders, water managers and the public need to understand the energy footprint of water consumption. “Paying attention to the tradeoffs in the water-energy area is going to be key,” said Mehan. “We’ve got to start worrying about the water footprint of energy and the energy footprint of water, and the carbon footprint of both. We can’t continue this stove-piped approach of treating water and energy separately. And I think that’s basically where all these recommendations and the spirit of the whole Aspen Dialogue are taking us — to a more integrated approach to water resource management.”

The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Sustainable Water Infrastructure in the United States was supported by the Water Environment Federation, the National Association of Water Companies and CH2M HILL.

Download the full report: Sustainable Water Systems: Step One – Redefining the Nation’s Infrastructure Challenge.

From left, NAWC Executive Director Michael Deane; G. Tracy Mehan III, principle of the Cadmus Group and former assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Water; Wally Bishop, general manager of Contra Costa Water District; and Katherine Baer, Healthy Waters campaign director for American Rivers, participate in a roundtable discussion on the findings of a recently published Aspen Institute report defining sustainable paths towards improving our nation’s water infrastructure.

Photography by Steve Johnson at The Aspen Institute









EPA Seeks Comment on Perchlorate Regulatory Determination

On Aug. 5, 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a supplementary notice seeking public comment for the agency’s revised regulatory determination for the rocket fuel ingredient perchlorate. The record will be open for comment for 30 days. This revised opportunity for comment would allow EPA to revisit the Bush Administration’s decision last year not to regulate the chemical under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The regulatory process for perchlorate has been controversial because the risks of the chemical may primarily be born by sensitive subpopulations such as pregnant mothers and babies rather than the population as a whole. The Clinton Administration had rejected proposals to set standards for subpopulations, though the decision was not specifically based on perchlorate.

The supplementary notice states that “EPA is now considering a broader range of alternatives for interpreting the available data on: the level of health concern, the frequency of occurrence of perchlorate in drinking water, and the opportunity for health risk reduction through a national primary drinking water standard.”

Click here to read the EPA Supplemental Request for Comments.

EPA Approves Six Alternative Test Methods under SDWA

The EPA is approving six alternative test procedures for contaminants listed in the drinking water regulations. EPA has determined that these procedures are as effective as the methods already established in the regulations for the same contaminants.

EPA is using its streamlined approval authority to make these six alternative methods available for determining contaminant concentrations in samples collected under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

For more information, please click here.


DHS Provides Water and Wastewater Sector Pandemic Guideline

The Department of Homeland Security provided a sector-specific guideline as an annex to the Pandemic Influenza Preparedness, Response, and Recovery Guide for Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources (CI/KR Pandemic Influenza Guide) and intends for it to assist water and wastewater utilities in planning for a catastrophic influenza pandemic.

DHS notes that utilities that fail to prepare for such a prolonged catastrophic event may find themselves without the staff, equipment or supplies necessary to continue providing safe drinking water or treating wastewater for their community.

For a copy of the annex guideline, click here.

For a copy of the complete guide, click here.



EPA Releases National Incident Management System (NIMS) Implementation Objectives

As utility personnel plan and prepare for emergencies, a common question arises: “What does NIMS compliance mean for the water sector?” Although FEMA developed the National Incident Management System (NIMS) compliance requirements for state, local and tribal governments, they have not developed requirements for individual sectors, such as the water sector.

In the absence of specific requirements, EPA developed a Water Sector NIMS Implementation Objectives fact sheet. This newly released document provides recommended water sector NIMS implementation objectives. Under this approach, as utilities institute NIMS implementation objectives, they are in turn helping their jurisdictions to become NIMS compliant.

Please share this document with your colleagues and other professional contacts interested in water sector emergency preparedness and response. The document can be accessed by clicking here.



WSCC Hosts Free Cyber Security Workshops

The Water Sector Coordinating Council (WSCC) is hosting a series of workshops designed specifically to improve the knowledge, skills and abilities of U.S.-based water sector utility employees who are responsible for control system security. The Department of Homeland Security’s Control Systems Security Program will present the workshop training and discuss security products that are available for use by Water Sector asset owners and operators. These one-day events will include:

  • A briefing on the Roadmap to Secure Control Systems in the Water Sector to review the goals, milestones and information on roles, responsibilities and relationship models for IT and ICS organizations;
  • An overview of cyber risks and threats to utility based ICS;
  • Concrete and easy-to-understand mitigation strategies for securing ICS; and
  • Demonstration and instruction on the DHS mitigation and self-assessment tools.

To register for the one of the four workshops please go to WaterISAC and select News and Events at the top of the page. 

The dates and locations for the four workshops are:

  • September 28, 2009 - Los Angeles, CA
  • October 15, 2009 - Chicago, IL
  • October 26, 2009 - San Antonio, TX
  • November 3, 2009 - Holliston (Boston), MA

If you have any questions regarding the workshops, please contact Aaron Levy or Kevin Morley.


Training Workshop for EPA Region 3 Utilities Offered

Under EPA’s Water Security Initiative, the Agency is developing guidance and tools to assist utilities with preventing, detecting and responding to drinking water contamination events. These efforts are designed to benefit both utilities that have very limited contamination detection and response capabilities, and utilities that have deployed advanced monitoring and surveillance equipment.

This workshop will be held in Washington, D.C., Sept. 21-22, and will focus on three EPA guidance documents:

  • Interim Guidance on Planning for Contamination Warning System Deployment will assist drinking water utilities with designing and deploying equipment to prevent and detect contamination events.
  • Interim Guidance on Developing an Operational Strategy for Contamination Warning Systems will assist drinking water utilities with developing standard operating procedures for contamination monitoring and surveillance equipment.
  • Interim Guidance on Developing Consequence Management Plans for Drinking Water Utilities will assist drinking water utilities with developing plans for responding to and recovering from a contamination incident in the distribution system.

In addition, this workshop will present lessons learned from deployment and operation of a full-scale drinking water contamination warning system pilot in Cincinnati, Ohio.

This workshop has the following objectives:

  1. Give participants an understanding of current approaches for preventing, detecting and responding to drinking water contamination;
  2. Describe guidance, tools and other resources that participants may use for assistance in deploying contamination warning system components and systems; and
  3. Receive feedback from participants regarding future guidance and tools that would help utilities with implementing contamination-warning systems.

Online registration is necessary. Click here for registration and additional information including the agenda.