America's Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) 101 – Deadlines, Consequences & Steps to Compliance

Signed into law on October 23, 2018, America's Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) requires all community water systems/utilities that serve more than 3,300 people to conduct risk and resilience assessments and develop or update their emergency response plans (ERPs). Utilities must then certify to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that they were completed. Failure to comply with this mandate can result in significant fines.

Here’s what you need to know about the AWIA, steps to compliance, consequences of non-compliance and your deadlines – as well as where to begin.

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What is the AWIA?

The AWIA falls under the Safe Drinking Water Act. The intent of the Act is to “improve drinking water and water quality, deepen infrastructure investments, enhance public health and quality of life, increase jobs, and bolster the economy.” In particular, Section 2013 of the AWIA states that all community (drinking) water systems serving more than 3,300 people must conduct risk and resilience assessments and develop or update their ERPs – addressing how the system would respond to threats uncovered in the assessment.

Brief Overview – Process Required Under the AWIA. Step 1: Complete risk and resilience assessment. Step 2: Submit certification of assessment completion to the EPA. Step 3: Develop or update your emergency response plan. Step 4: Submit certification of ERP completion to the EPA.

Digging deeper, first you must conduct a risk and resilience assessment and certify to the EPA that it has been completed. After, use the findings to develop or update your ERP and certify to the EPA that it has been completed.

Every five years, you are required to certify to the EPA that you have reviewed your assessment and made any necessary revisions. No later than six months after completing or reviewing your assessment, you must also certify completion of your ERP (developed or updated).

AWIA Certification Deadlines
As shown above, the deadlines set by the AWIA are dependent upon the population served by each water utility.

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What if you fail to comply with the AWIA?

There are consequences if you do not complete a risk and resilience assessment, update or develop your ERP, and/or certify that you have complied with the AWIA. In fact, the EPA can fine water utilities up to $25,000 per day for non-compliance.

How does the AWIA differ from the Bioterrorism Act?

The AWIA features a set of requirements different than the regulations enacted under the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 (i.e., Bioterrorism Act). Specifically, you must complete a risk and resilience assessment that evaluates all hazards to a given water utility. This includes:

  • Malevolent acts
  • Natural disasters
  • Proximity hazards
  • Dependency hazards
  • Cybersecurity threats

Under the Bioterrorism Act, water systems are required to complete vulnerability assessments, which focus on terrorism threats. The results from these assessments can be helpful in preparing your risk and resilience assessment.

Specific to risk and resilience assessments, what do you need to do?

Risk and resilience assessments are the first step in compliance with the AWIA; they must take place before developing or updating your ERP, as findings from these assessments are incorporated into the ERP. These assessments are intended to evaluate the risks to and resilience of your water utility. This includes:

  1. Assessing risks to the water system from malevolent acts and natural hazards.
     
  2. Assessing resilience of the pipes and constructed conveyances; physical barriers; source water; water collection and intake; pretreatment, treatment, storage and distribution facilities; as well as electronic, computer and/or other automated systems (including the security of such systems) that are utilized by the system.
     
  3. Assessing the monitoring practices of the water system.
     
  4. Evaluating the financial infrastructure of the water system.
     
  5. Evaluating the use, storage and/or handling of various chemicals by the water system.
     
  6. Assessing the operation and maintenance practices of the water system.

It’s important to remember that your water utility must review the risk and resilience assessment and submit a recertification to the EPA every five years – showcasing that the assessment has been reviewed and, if necessary, revised.

How do you get started on your risk and resilience assessment?

Your first step in completing the risk and resilience assessment is to understand and, ideally, use the American Water Works Association (AWWA) J100 Standard seven step process for conducting such assessments.

  1. Asset characterization. Determine which assets are critical to the water utility’s mission.
     
  2. Threat characterization. Consider what hazards threaten the critical assets.
     
  3. Consequence analysis. Identify the worst reasonable consequences that can be caused by specific threats on the assets.
     
  4. Vulnerability analysis. Analyze the ability of each critical asset and its protective systems to withstand each specified threat.
     
  5. Threat likelihood analysis. Estimate the likelihood of the threats.
     
  6. Risk/resilience analysis. Estimate the water utility’s risk and resilience relative to each threat-asset pair.
     
  7. Risk/resilience management. Determine whether actions are needed to reduce the risks to your critical assets.

At SEH, we have been undertaking this process and following the steps above in service to our clients. We begin by reviewing past reports and research to form a foundation that enables our teams to thoroughly and conclusively complete these seven steps. Relying on past reports minimizes your rework, ultimately saving you time and money. We then rely on a systematic and refined process to work through each of the seven steps.  

Say, for example, you have a well house that must meet the AWIA requirements and, according to the timeline requirements listed above, your deadline is June 30, 2021. Conducting a risk and resilience assessment would look like the following:

Well House infographic

Specific to ERPs, what do you need to do?

After certifying a risk and resilience assessment, you must then develop or update your ERP and certify completion to the EPA no later than six months after risk and resilience assessment certification. Under the AWIA, you must develop or update your ERP to incorporate all findings from a risk and resilience assessment. This includes:

  1. Strategies and resources to improve the resilience of your water system – including the physical security and cybersecurity of the system.
     
  2. Plans and procedures that can be implemented – as well as identification of equipment that can be utilized – in the event of a malevolent act or natural hazard that threatens the ability of the community water system to deliver safe drinking water.
     
  3. Actions, procedures and equipment that can eliminate or significantly lessen the impact of a malevolent act or natural hazard on public health, as well as the safety and supply of the system’s drinking water. This includes developing alternative source water options, relocating water intakes and constructing flood protection barriers.
     
  4. Strategies that can be used to aid in the detection of malevolent acts or natural hazards which threaten the security or resilience of the water system.

When preparing or revising a risk and resilience assessment or ERP under the AWIA, your water utility must (to the extent possible) coordinate with local emergency planning committees established under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act of 1986.

How can you “certify” completion of your risk and resilience assessment and ERP?

Risk and resilience assessments and ERPs are certified by submitting a certification form online, through email or through postal mail to the EPA. You can find printable and secure electronic certification forms as well as the appropriate email and postal addresses on the EPA website, here: Certification Statements for Risk and Resilience Assessment or Emergency Response Plan.

Only certification forms need to be submitted; copies of your risk and resilience assessments and ERPs do not need to be sent to the EPA. However, you must also maintain a copy of your risk and resilience assessment and ERP for five years after certifying the plan to the EPA. Why? Because the EPA often conducts audits to make sure they have been completed.

Unsure where to begin? Ask for help.

Our intent is to make you aware of important changes to and requirements by U.S. law, and how these changes will impact your communities and day-to-day work. But we are also here to help. At SEH, we’re familiar with all types of water utilities and systems, and have been providing similar work for decades across several regions of the U.S. We understand the requirements set forth by the AWIA and EPA, and are proficient in making sure our clients remain in compliance with these new regulations.

Please be encouraged to contact us directly with questions, to simply learn more about the AWIA and all that it entails, or to get started on the process.

About the Experts

Simon McCormack

Simon McCormack, PE*, is an SEH professional engineer with in-depth knowledge of water system engineering – from design to operation. Simon is proficient in ensuring compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act, as well as overseeing the steps needed for clients to efficiently and thoroughly complete risk and resilience assessments and emergency response plans. Contact Simon

Karen Cavett

Karen Cavett, PE**, is an SEH principal, senior professional engineer and the company’s regional wastewater leader for Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. With more than 30 years of commitment to the industry, Karen is also an advocate for safe access to water in all communities. Contact Karen

*Registered Professional Engineer in MN
**Registered Professional Engineer in MN, VA

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