INHOFE, JEFFORDS ANNOUNCE GAO REPORT ON DRINKING WATER SECURITY

INHOFE, JEFFORDS ANNOUNCE GAO REPORT ON DRINKING WATER SECURITY

WASHINGTON, D.C.--Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works, and Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), the committee’s ranking member, released today a General Accounting Office (GAO) report on drinking water security. The report was self-initiated by GAO to examine how best the federal government should spend its limited resources if municipalities request federal financial assistance in meeting their security needs.

The report compiles industry experts’ views on three questions: 1) the key security-related vulnerabilities of drinking water systems; 2) the criteria for determining how federal funds should be allocated among drinking water systems to improve their security; and 3) specific activities the federal government should support to improve drinking water security.

The report reaffirmed that distribution systems are among the most vulnerable physical components of drinking water utilities. Other significant vulnerabilities include source water supplies, the computer systems that manage critical utility functions, and treatment chemicals stored on site.

The report identified several areas, which most warranted federal financial support. These include developing real-time monitoring technologies, increasing laboratories’ capacity to deal with an attack, hardening of assets, and testing and protection of computer systems. The Report also recommends additional training and education for those who operate systems and a strengthening of the relationship between the utilities and public health and law enforcement agencies.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is the lead agency for drinking water system security. Acting under the authority of the Presidential Decision Directive 63 and the Bioterrorism Prevention Act of 2001, EPA has distributed funding and extensive information to the industry on enhancing security.

Senator Inhofe said, “As we continue to examine the security of the nation's infrastructure, the safety of our drinking water supplies is an important priority. Addressing the nation’s security needs requires a partnership between all levels of government. GAO’s analysis of the potential federal role in this partnership will be helpful as we receive requests from local governments for assistance and as we develop federal funding priorities.”

Senator Jeffords said, “This report indicates that our nation's drinking water supplies remain vulnerable from both man-made and natural disasters. Many of us take safe drinking water for granted, and this report shows that we shouldn't. Congress has a responsibility to make sure that our drinking water systems are a safe as they can be.”