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Federal Water Tap, May 28: EPA Alerts Water Utilities to Inadequate Cybersecurity Protections | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware


The Rundown

  • EPA finds that most water utilities it inspected have deficient cybersecurity.
  • Feds settle with Norfolk Southern over toxic releases from East Palestine train derailment.
  • Defense Department funds research into water and extreme weather to inform its strategic planning.
  • EPA will hold a public meeting on its water affordability needs assessment.
  • Today is the final day for public comment on EPA’s planned national study of PFAS in wastewater.
  • Senate committee approves bill to authorize Army Corps water projects.
  • EPA denies Alabama’s request to run its own coal ash permitting program.

And lastly, a Senate committee discusses the risks and opportunities in growing electric power demand.

“We cannot be open for business if we cannot keep the lights on.” – Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) speaking at a Senate committee hearing on the nation’s rising demand for electric power. Manchin and John Barrasso, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s ranking Republican, used the forum to criticize the Biden administration’s recent decision to put stricter water pollution limits on fossil fuel power plants that will result in them shutting down. “Our goal should be addition, not subtraction,” Barrasso said. Barrasso represents Wyoming, home to the Powder River basin, the nation’s largest source of coal. The Biden administration moved earlier this month to end new coal mining leases in the basin.

By the Numbers

$225 Million: Funding allocated to tribes and Alaska Natives for drinking water and wastewater improvements.

$310 Million: Federal settlement with Norfolk Southern over the company’s train derailment in February 2023 that released toxic chemicals into the air and water in East Palestine, Ohio. The settlement, which still needs U.S. district court approval, includes cleanup costs, health services, groundwater and surface water monitoring, and stream restoration.

19 to 0: Vote by which the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee approved the Water Resources Development Act, a bill that authorizes Army Corps of Engineers water projects.

News Briefs

Water Utility Cybersecurity
Some 70 percent of the water systems the EPA inspected in the last nine months had inadequate measures to protect against a cyberattack, according to an agency alert.

Failures included not restricting network access to former employees, not changing default passwords, and not assessing system vulnerabilities.

The agency said it will use its enforcement power if utilities continue to lag on cybersecurity.

Federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies have recently highlighted the risk of web-based attacks on critical infrastructure carried out by groups in China, Iran, and Russia.

Alabama Coal Ash Oversight
The EPA denied the Alabama Department of Environmental Management’s bid to oversee permitting of coal ash disposal in the state.

The agency determined that the state program would not have sufficiently protected waterways from contamination. In particular, the agency found fault with the state’s requirements for closing waste dumps that did not have liners, thus exposing the coal waste to groundwater.

Studies and Reports

Disinfection Byproducts Review
The EPA Science Advisory Board is looking for experts to assist in the rulemaking process for certain contaminants in drinking water.

The EPA is considering revisions to rules regarding microbes and disinfection byproducts. The latter are harmful compounds that form when chlorine or other disinfectants are added to drinking water in order to kill microbes.

The outside experts would review the agency’s scientific analysis. Candidate applications are due by June 14. See the link for details.

Hawaiian Groundwater
The U.S. Geological Survey published a pair of studies that look at future hydrology on the Hawaiian Islands.

One study assessed groundwater availability under several climate scenarios. The other considers groundwater recharge and soil moisture if island forests are replaced by drier grasslands.

On the Radar

National Study of PFAS in Wastewater & Sludge
Today is the last day to submit comments on the EPA’s proposed national study of PFAS in wastewater and sewage sludge.

The proposed study would enlist about 400 of the largest wastewater treatment systems across the country. Those facilities would complete questionnaires. A subset of 200 to 300 systems will do additional analysis on their untreated wastewater, treated wastewater, and sewage sludge.

The EPA does not regulate PFAS in industrial waste discharges or in sewage sludge.

Submit comments via www.regulations.gov using docket number EPA–HQ– OW–2023–0580.

DOJ Environmental Justice
The Justice Department is developing an environmental justice strategic plan. Comments are due July 8.

Water and Food as National Security Concerns
The Defense Department is interested in how seasonal and decadal weather patterns will influence water, food, and energy systems.

So interested, in fact, that the Pentagon is funding research that will assist its strategic planning.

The $9.6 million grant opportunity for research universities points in two directions: how extreme weather and water scarcity will affect the military’s operations; but also how water extremes and food shortages could inflame conflicts in which the military might need to intervene.

“Accurate and timely information regarding water-related challenges opens opportunities to anticipate, plan for, and reduce tensions through defense diplomacy,” the funding notice states.

Applications are due June 18.

Water Affordability Study
The EPA is preparing a report to Congress on the nation’s water affordability needs.

To inform the report, the agency will hold a public listening session on June 3. Register here.

Among the questions the agency would like answered are:

    • How are people in your community impacted by water affordability challenges?
    • What recommendations do you have for how EPA can support communities where households struggle with water bills?
    • What do you think is important for EPA to understand about water affordability?

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.

Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton

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