By Laura Gundlach, PE

Are you a water treatment system operator serving a community of over 3,300 people? If so, you will soon need to prepare or update a water system Emergency Response Plan. In the past, water system Emergency Response Plans (ERPs) were required for communities over 100,000. But after America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) was signed into law in October 2018, smaller communities are now required to participate in disaster planning. How small? Communities of over 3,300 will need to create a “Risk and Resilience Assessment” and an ERP.

This may be new to most Montana and Wyoming communities serving smaller populations. In the past, Billings was the only community under this requirement. However, this law now affects 23 communities in Montana and 21 communities in Wyoming. Under the AWIA, these communities are now lawfully required to develop Risk and Resilience Assessments and Emergency Response Plans (ERPs).

What Needs to Be Addressed in an ERP?

Water systems were previously required to assess only their risks of bioterrorism. However, the AWIA now requires a holistic assessment of risks to their system. This holistic assessment is covered in preparing a “Risk and Resilience Assessment” as part of developing the overall ERP. This approach helps communities understand not only bioterrorism risks but risks associated with natural hazards and malevolent acts.

The Risk and Resilience Assessment must address the following:

  • The risk to the water system from malevolent acts and natural hazards;
  • The resilience of the pipes and constructed conveyances, physical barriers, source water, water collection and intake, pretreatment, treatment, storage and distribution facilities, electronic, computer, or other automated systems (including the security of such systems) that are used by the system;
  • The monitoring practices of the system;
  • The financial infrastructure of the system;
  • The use, storage, or handling of various chemicals by the system; and
  • The operation and maintenance of the system.

When is Our Plan Due?

After completing the Risk and Resilience Assessment, each system must prepare or revise their ERP plan to incorporate its findings to improve the system, generate plans and procedures during natural hazards or malevolent acts, and create strategies to aid in the detection of such events. Certification of these documents is due to the EPA with staggered deadlines based on the population served by the water system. The deadline for Risk Assessments and ERPs has passed. 

Benefits of Risk and Resilience Assessments and ERP

While no one wants more work, and this process may be new and daunting, there are benefits to going through this assessment. It’s a good opportunity for water system operators to fully understand their risks and start to address them through new infrastructure or rehabilitation of existing infrastructure. Good planning can set you up for future success in securing federal and state grant funds for important infrastructure projects.

Helpful Tips

If your community falls into a category that now must develop a Risk and Resilience Assessment and an ERP, have no fear. Here are a couple of resources you can use to get these assessments done:

Training Resources – The American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have created training resources to assist with creating both the Risk Assessments and the ERPs. The AWWA built a 10-hour Utility Risk & Resilience Certificate Program to provide a foundation for supporting water utilities in developing an all-hazards approach to risk and resilience management.

Guidance and Resources – This process is fairly collaborative, and water utilities must coordinate with local and county emergency planning committees and any IT providers. Utilities may also seek guidance from consultants with a history and experience with creating Risk and Resiliency Assessments and ERPs.  Morrison-Maierle can help to navigate through identifying and managing the risks to their water systems.