In addition to concerns about the legal process and legality of the rule, the water associations expressed concerns that the rule would create additional cybersecurity vulnerabilities for utilities, as sanitary surveys required in the rule have public notification requirements. Finally, the rule would have required cybersecurity reviews by state regulatory agencies that lack expertise and resources for cybersecurity oversight. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit granted a stay on July 12, two months before EPA withdrew the rule.
“AWWA is pleased that EPA has decided to withdraw its cybersecurity rule,” said AWWA CEO David LaFrance. “We also recognize that cyber threats in the water sector are real and growing, and we cannot let our guard down for even a moment. Strong oversight of cybersecurity in the water sector remains critical. We urge U.S. Congress and EPA to support a co-regulatory model that would engage utilities in developing cybersecurity requirements with oversight from EPA.”
“This is a major announcement for rural water and wastewater systems as EPA’s decision to rescind the Cybersecurity Rule is released,” said NRWA CEO Matt Holmes. “NRWA commends EPA for making the right call as we understand this was not taken lightly and involved much debate. Cybersecurity remains an important issue for our sector, and we are eager to collaborate with EPA in the future to address cybersecurity in the water industry.”
Together AWWA and NRWA represent community water systems of all sizes and have been actively involved in advocating for solutions to address cybersecurity while keeping their members’ perspectives in mind. This is the first time they have partnered together at this scale on national policy.
AWWA first formally endorsed a co-regulatory approach in October 2021 and testified about it before the U.S. House Committee on Homeland Security in 2022. The new governance framework would build on a similar process in the electric sector, maintain EPA oversight, ensure the engagement of water sector experts and protect sensitive information. It would also incorporate the public-private collaboration called for in the recent National Cybersecurity Strategy.
NRWA has been actively involved in the legislative arena where cybersecurity is concerned, and its grassroots advocacy has resulted in the introduction of the “Cybersecurity for Rural Water Systems Act of 2023” by Congressmen Zach Nunn (IA-R) and Don Davis (NC-D) and Congresswomen Angie Craig (MN-D), and Abigail Spanberger (VA-D). A key portion of the bill includes additional funding through the NRWA Circuit Rider Program to provide technical assistance to help utilities address cybersecurity.
AWWA, NRWA and other water organizations continue to strongly advocate for the implementation of cybersecurity best practices at drinking water and wastewater utilities. Several resources that AWWA has developed, in collaboration with partners, facilitate utility review of potential vulnerabilities based on the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Cybersecurity Framework.
“October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a time when all water utilities are especially focused on keeping our critical infrastructure safe from those who would do us harm,” LaFrance said. “We hope today’s development is an opportunity to advance a collaborative approach that leads to a safer cybersecurity future.”
Established in 1881, the American Water Works Association is the largest nonprofit, scientific and educational association dedicated to managing and treating water, the world’s most vital resource. With approximately 50,000 members, AWWA provides solutions to improve public health, protect the environment, strengthen the economy and enhance our quality of life.
The National Rural Water Association is the largest public drinking water and sanitation utility organization representing the interests of more than 31,000 water and wastewater utilities nationwide. NRWA provides training and technical assistance through 50 affiliated State Rural Water Associations dedicated to supporting and promoting the water and wastewater professionals that serve small communities across the United States. NRWA and the State Affiliates provide training on operator certification, financial sustainability, environmental compliance, utility management and governance to over 80,000 water professionals annually in all 50 states. To learn more, visit http://www.nrwa.org.
SOURCE American Water Works Association