What Does America’s Water Infrastructure Act Mean for Your Utility?

America’s Water Infrastructure Act (S. 3021), more commonly referred to as AWIA, was signed into law rather quietly in October 2018. The Update has previously discussed AWIA, and as further details from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) are set to emerge in early August, we are going to dive deeper into the details in this special issue of The Update newsletter.

Since the law concerns infrastructure as opposed to directly addressing water quality, it didn’t create as much buzz among the public. However, it is arguable that this comprehensive act has the potential to affect water quality by ensuring water systems are well supported and protected. AWIA legislation mandates community water systems to submit documentation certifying the completion of Risk and Resilience Assessments and Emergency Response Plans to the USEPA, with compliance deadlines as early as March 2020.

AWIA is meant to support best practices and provide specific criteria so that all systems can be prepared for uncertainties. According to AE2S Drinking Water Practice Leader Nate Weisenburger, “Community Water Systems have the responsibility to manage and operate the utility to make it as robust and resilient as possible, with the ultimate intent of best serving the community. It is in a system’s best interest to be as prepared as possible when it comes to protecting water utilities from threats.”

At its core, AWIA is about accountability and best practices. AWIA lays out new compliance standards that give water utilities the opportunity to plan for potential emergencies in their assessments and plans, from newer risks such as cybersecurity to age-old risks like natural disasters. In terms of addressing related water infrastructure legislation, the law reauthorizes the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) for three years and more than doubles the loan program’s authorized spending to $1.95 billion by the third year.

AWIA also included elements of the Secure Required Funding for Water Infrastructure Now (SRF WIN) Act and reauthorized the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) for two years. In addition to funding these related pieces of legislation, AWIA expands water storage capabilities; reduces flooding risks for rural, western, and coastal communities; and addresses significant water infrastructure needs in Tribal communities, according to the American Water Works Association.

Prior to AWIA, the closest piece of legislation relating to widespread mandatory compliance with water infrastructure assessments was the Bioterrorism Act of 2002. This law was enacted post 9/11, and its main purpose was to protect U.S. infrastructure from terroristic threats. Water utilities serving more than 3,300 people were required to conduct Vulnerability Assessments and develop Emergency Response Plans. The primary differences between AWIA and the Bioterrism Act are the scope of risk assessment and that AWIA requires a recurrent certification submission to USEPA every five years from community water systems that serve more than 3,300 people.

There are still more details to come this August, as the USEPA has yet to lay out specific criteria on what extent utilities will be required to comply. There are varying requirements and deadlines depending on the size of community the water system is serving. This is a good time for community water systems to start becoming familiar with AWIA and reviewing previous assessments and response plans.

For additional information, check out this AWIA flyer that AE2S created.