Federal Water Tap, May 6: White House Issues Cybersecurity Memo for Critical Infrastructure

The Rundown

  • Protecting water systems and other critical infrastructure is the heart of a Biden administration cybersecurity plan.
  • EPA memo details requirements for states and tribes when using federal funds to replace lead drinking water pipes.
  • EPA moves to protect tribal fishing rights when states set water quality standards for rivers and lakes.
  • FDA finalizes rules to prevent food-borne illness from tainted irrigation water.
  • Defense Department plans to test engineered oyster beds and coral reefs to protect its coastal bases from sea-level rise, storm surge, and erosion.
  • EPA financial advisers study a water reuse tax credit.
  • USGS publishes microplastics research strategy.
  • A bill in Congress aims to estimate U.S. households without reliable water, sanitation, and hygiene.
  • House Agriculture Committee previews new farm bill.

And lastly, western representatives ask the Biden administration to invest in forests and watersheds for drought-resilient agriculture.

“Investments to comprehensively address both short-term drought recovery and future resilience in the American West must include both smaller-scale on-farm measures and larger-scale upstream watershed restoration and improvements.” – Excerpt from a letter signed by 31 senators and representatives from western states. Sent to Tom Vilsack, the head of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the letter asks for more investment in upstream watersheds and forests, as well as improvements in irrigation water efficiency.

In context: Billions in Federal Assistance after New Mexico’s Largest Wildfire. But Little Money to Repair Streams

By the Numbers

6 Percent: Forecasted increase in U.S. hydropower generation this year, according to the Energy Information Administration. Hydropower generation in 2023 was the lowest in 22 years.

News Briefs

The White House outlined steps to protect critical infrastructure, including water systems and dams, from hacking and cyberattacks that disrupt service and endanger lives.

In the memo, the White House commits to clear roles and responsibilities, minimum cybersecurity standards, risk assessments, financial support, detecting attacks before they begin, and sharing these intelligence reports with system operators.

Water systems are increasingly a target. Recent cyberattacks have been documented against public water systems in Florida, Texas, and Pennsylvania. The attackers are suspected to be connected to groups in Iran, Russia, and China.

The EPA had attempted to mandate cybersecurity assessments for water systems, but backed off that approach amid lawsuits and industry pushback.

Water Bills in Congress

  • The WASH Access Data Collection Act aims for a better understanding of who in the country does not have reliable water, sanitation, and hygiene. The bill would require the EPA to establish a working group that, in concert with a federal agency or outside researchers, will estimate the households that do not have those basic needs. The group will then report to Congress on the cost of providing services.
  • The House Agriculture Committee released a title-by-title preview of the new farm bill. Congress failed to complete the gargantuan piece of food policy legislation last year. The preview indicates an expansion of federal subsidies for disaster assistance, price supports, and dairy programs. The committee will markup the bill on May 23.

Food Safety and Irrigation Water
The Food and Drug Administration finalized new rules meant to avert food-borne disease outbreaks.

How? The rules, among other things, target irrigation water in order to minimize the transfer of pathogens.

Irrigation water was the likely source of a deadly E. coli outbreak in 2018 from contaminated romaine lettuce. The lettuce was grown in Yuma, Arizona. Federal investigators concluded that the bacteria most likely came from an irrigation canal. Ninety-six people were hospitalized and five died.

Tribal Rights and Water Quality
The EPA finalized a rule to protect tribal rights for fishing and other natural resources.

When states set water quality standards for rivers and lakes they must also consider uses of those waters for tribal reserved rights. That means taking into account factors like tribal members eating more fish than the general population, thereby being exposed to more pollution unless water quality standards are stricter.

Rules, Rules, Rules…On a Deadline
If it seems like a lot of final rules have been posted in recent weeks, there’s a reason for it.

The Congressional Review Act allows an incoming Congress to reject rules that were published in the waning days of a previous administration. It comes into play if Republicans take control of the House and Senate and President Biden loses his re-election bid.

Waning days means the last 60 days legislative days of a session. The exact deadline for finalizing rules so that they aren’t subject to review won’t be known until Congress finishes its work. But E&E News talked with several experts who gave ballpark estimates. They said the deadline would fall between late May and late June.

Studies and Reports

Lead Pipe Replacement
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a memo that details requirements for states and tribes when using federal funds for replacing lead drinking water pipes.

Along with the memo, the EPA delivered $3 billion to states and tribes for lead pipe removal. The funds are this year’s allocation from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides $15 billion over five years for that purpose.

Microplastics Research Strategy
Tiny bits of plastic are accumulating in the nation’s rivers, lakes, and soils. To what effect?

The U.S. Geological Survey published a research strategy for understanding microplastics in the environment.

Major questions span the physical (How do plastics break down in various environments?) and the analytical (What sampling protocols should be the national standard?) to the toxicological (How do chemicals in plastics affect wildlife health?).

In context: ‘It’s Raining Plastic’: Researchers Find Microscopic Fibers in Colorado Rain Samples

Electric Transmission Lines Permitting
The Department of Energy published new rules for permitting interstate electric transmission lines.

Project developers will be required to submit a water use and quality report. For the project area, the report must identify the location of public and private groundwater wells and springs, in addition to downstream water supply intakes. It must also note where a Clean Water Act Section 401 permit will be required.

On the Radar

Reef Breaks
The Defense Department’s special projects agency is recommending an engineering-nature hybrid to protect coast lines from sea-level rise and storm surge.

DARPA is working with universities to develop its Reefense system in three locations – two in Florida and one in Hawaii. The agency just published an environmental assessment of the site in Baker Point, Florida, which is adjacent to Tyndall Air Force Base.

The idea is straightforward: instead of sea walls, use engineered structures to facilitate the growth of offshore oyster beds and coral reefs. These habitats dampen the force of waves and reduce damage to the base in storms. The project will test their effectiveness.

The Baker Point site would use only oyster beds. The engineered substructures would be positioned as soon as this summer and would be in place for at least three years. That’s when the DARPA funding runs out. Another party could then take over. Rutgers University is the research partner.

Public comments on the project are being accepted through June 5. Submit them here.

Water Reuse Tax Credit
The EPA’s financial advisory board is studying how tax credits could spur the growth of industrial water recycling and reuse.

The advisory board will hold a public meeting on May 21 via webcast to discuss and gather input. Register here.

Federal Water Tap is a weekly digest spotting trends in U.S. government water policy. To get more water news, follow Circle of Blue on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply