The Perfect Storm: ASDWA Year in Review 2023

ASDWA continues to help states navigate the challenging waters of regulations and resource needs through established partnerships and member engagement.

Looking Back at 2023

I would say we entered 2024 in the throes of “everything, everywhere, all at once,” and to a degree, we are still in those conditions. It is a lot to take on in our roles as directors. We enter our daily battle with staffing concerns and the lack of full funding to support all the vital tasks we are required to perform. Staffing struggles take the form of retirements, opportunities outside public service, and trying to find the next generation of regulators. Even though funding levels have been stagnant, we continue to persevere as we are all passionate about the role we play in public health protection.

Even with our plates already full, new rules and policies have been steadily added. Some are holdovers from America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018 (AWIA). Yes, that’s right - 2018. From AWIA, the Consumer Confidence Report rule is being revised, and in 2023, ASDWA responded to these extensive revisions. Additionally, we saw a new provision regarding a rule on water system restructuring to force water systems into a sustainable solution. Other major rules/policies out in front included PFAS, LCRR/LCRI, and Cybersecurity. For PFAS, EPA was leading through its roadmap in various ways, including presenting proposed MCLs and the new hazard index concept for managing PFAS in drinking water. ASDWA responded with questions warranting attention. The Revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule, as well as the Improvements, were presented to us last year. Many of the rule’s provisions appear to have a higher level of complication, requiring mitigation through additional staff, training, and creative funding. ASDWA responded by seeking additional clarity and guidance regarding these complicated elements. Cybersecurity began as a push to use an established drinking water rule meant to protect ground water sources from the threat of contamination. Believing this to be the wrong vehicle for a regulation of this type, ASDWA responded through pointed questions, the offering of what we believe to be better, workable alternatives, and a collaborative meeting with EPA to find a path forward.

Everywhere I noted “ASDWA responded,” above means WE/YOU responded, i.e., the STATES. We are the implementors. We do amazing work with limited resources. We provide technical assistance. We fund the projects needed to build or maintain compliance. We strive for workable solutions that can be implemented in our existing regulatory frameworks. Our lift is heavy. 25 years ago, the concept of simultaneous compliance was not as critical as it has become. During the past year, I was afforded the opportunity to participate in the development of recommendations to the National Drinking Water Advisory Council for the Microbiological/Disinfection By-Product rules. During the development of these recommendations, discussions frequently revealed concerns about water systems achieving the simultaneous balance of compliance with the various rules and regulations. We are also working towards our own balance as regulatory primacy agencies. We push for a balance of good, sustainable policy with respect to public health protection. In 2024, our goal of finding that balance continues, and it’s even more critical that we stay engaged with our federal partners. Good policy will only come through fighting and striving for it together.

In closing, I want to sincerely thank you. It was an honor and a pleasure to serve you this past year as your President. As the baton is passed to Ron and then to Amanda, know that ASDWA is in good hands as we move forward. The combination of their leadership, your Board, and ASDWA’s staff will continue to keep us driving toward strong policy and meaningful, effective public health protection.

William (Bill) F. Moody, P.E., BCEE

2023 ASDWA President & Director of the Bureau of Public Water Supply at the Mississippi State Department of Health

Looking Forward in 2024

Looking ahead to 2024 we will have some closure on the rule development efforts we have worked on for years with respect to PFAS, consumer confidence reports, and lead. We will have a good idea of the targets we are aiming to hit. How are we going to do it? Our engagement with EPA to develop feasible implementation guidance documents and appropriate mechanisms to help public drinking water systems will be essential. Our efforts to ensure that our future drinking water database system will support rule implementation are equally important. We must continue to advocate for more funding, both for infrastructure and in support of the states. Thousands of water systems will need to make heavy investments to remove lead service lines and/or install treatment to remove PFAS, and our programs need to support and oversee these efforts. In addition, this year, we will be involved in the serious matter of determining how to move the water utility sector forward with cybersecurity.

In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act, and in December, we will formally salute its 50th anniversary! We, as states, have been safeguarding drinking water for the last half-century. It is time to proclaim our great progress yet acknowledge the challenges we face and the continued need for investment. This will be an excellent opportunity to shine a light on how we help maintain a pillar of economic and social function in our society: Safe Drinking Water.

ASDWA’s staff are a tremendously powerful resource, helping us partner with EPA and advocating for safe water. At the same time, the association’s staff need help from us and our own subject matter experts to help craft the best approaches and work products. I encourage all the states to engage and contribute this year in 2024.

I thank Bill Moody for his top-notch leadership last year in 2023. I admire his commonsense approach and good humor! Bill and I will be working this year to pass the presidential baton to Amanda Ames in 2025. I anticipate an engaging and productive year and look forward to chatting with all of you at one of our meetings. We will continue our efforts to ensure safe drinking water across the nation in 2024. With the incredible knowledge and dedication of our collective team, I know we will be successful!

Ron Falco, P.E.

2024 ASDWA President and Safe Drinking Water Program Manager, Colorado Department of Health and Environment

Navigating New and Existing Regulatory Challenges

In 2023, ASDWA’s Members remained steadfast in their commitment to safeguarding public health through safe drinking water. As co-regulators with EPA, states play a critical role in the regulatory development and implementation process, and 2023 was a particularly eventful year for regulatory developments. States and EPA continued to strengthen the collaborative partnership through active participation in workgroups, development of feedback, and open communication.

Our members played a pivotal role in numerous National Drinking Water Advisory Council meetings dedicated to deliberations on microbial and disinfection byproducts rules, where state representatives contributed valuable insights and state expertise to shape regulatory frameworks for these important rules.

ASDWA actively reviewed and provided substantive feedback on the proposed regulation addressing Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), underscoring our dedication to addressing emerging contaminants and advancing comprehensive, feasible solutions. Additionally, ASDWA staff and members worked with a contractor to develop a new suite of communication materials for states and water systems as they navigate the new PFAS regulations.

ASDWA took proactive steps in initiating the review process for states to provide input on the proposed Lead and Copper Rule Improvements (LCRI), reinforcing our commitment to staying at the forefront of regulatory developments aimed at mitigating lead exposure nationwide. Our primary focus remained on facilitating a seamless transition of state primacy packages pertaining to components of the 2021 Lead and Copper Rule Revisions that would be maintained, ensuring effective implementation of these provisions while states and systems await the final LCRI.

Ensuring State Voices Are Heard on the Hill and Beyond

ASDWA continued to work with members to provide insights to EPA as the Agency works to implement the Build America, Buy America provisions. Additionally, ASDWA held meetings for members to discuss the implementation of the nearly $55 billion provided by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Most notably, ASDWA began a targeted outreach to the water sector and Congress to highlight the impacts of Congressionally Directed Spending and Community Project Funding, which has begun to divert significant funding from the Drinking Water State Revolving Funds. ASDWA staff surveyed members to provide insights into the impacts of states from a loss in set-aside funding. Most prominently, states noted that both technical assistance providers and programmatic staff are at risk if these cuts continue into the future, which threatens public health.

Continuing to Prioritize Partnerships

ASDWA's operations thrived through the invaluable contributions of its partner organizations, which played a pivotal role in enhancing the organization's reach and impact. Leveraging well-established partnerships, ASDWA heightened its visibility throughout the year. Collaborating with EPA, ASDWA orchestrated the highly successful 2023 Drinking Water Workshop, the State Summit on Water Reuse, the National Area-Wide Optimization Program Meeting, and the Data Management Users Conference. Additionally, ASDWA continued to lead the efforts of the national Source Water Collaborative and participate in the Lead Service Line Replacement Collaborative, focused on accelerating the full removal of lead pipes. ASDWA maintained regular coordination with state agencies, water utility associations, and partners within the water sector, focusing on innovative technology, regulatory initiatives, policies, and funding. These collaborative efforts not only fortified existing connections but also positioned ASDWA as a proactive force in addressing critical issues within the water sector. As we look back on the achievements of the past year, it is evident that ASDWA's commitment to fostering partnerships has been instrumental in advancing its mission and making substantial strides in the realm of drinking water safety.

A Wealth of Member Services

ASDWA seeks to perpetuate member engagement through knowledge and sharing about current and essential drinking water program events, functions, and activities. This year, ASDWA continued to provide timely communications through emails, meetings, workshops, webinars, newsletter articles, and the website to keep members informed about the latest happenings in drinking water across the country and at the national level. ASDWA utilized input from our Board, members, committees, workgroups, and the new Rule Managers Team (started this year) to inform federal rulemaking and policy, develop reports and white papers, and offer training for state staff. Through these groups and forums, ASDWA also provided opportunities for states to connect, ask questions, and share experiences, examples, and resources.

Message from the Executive Director

Looking back at 2023 reminds me of an earlier Year-In-Review that was titled “The Perfect Storm,” as the convergence was overwhelming at times. The increased infrastructure funding was good news, bad news in that everyone is grateful for more funding, but the workload was crushing. The combination of the final LCRR with the proposed LCRI made everyone’s head spin! The water sector is holding its collective breath for the final PFAS regulation and wondering how to possibly cope with the low standards that were proposed. And don’t forget the revisions to the Consumer Confidence Report regulation that will be finalized in 2024 – the barrage of new and/or revised regulations continues!

Regulations aren’t the only issues that ASDWA’s members are grappling with. Cybersecurity and water system resilience have become increasingly important in the past couple of years. The problems with challenging small systems continue to take significant resources. And now, Congress’ renewed funding of their own projects, i.e., earmarks, is adding to the resource challenges. All the traditional programmatic efforts must continue in spite of these new challenges.

I continue to be grateful for ASDWA’s members and their collective breadth and depth of knowledge. I am always impressed by how powerful ASDWA’s members can be when working together and speaking with a strong voice. ASDWA is a forum for states to share knowledge and to share experiences.

ASDWA would not be effective if it weren’t for the ASDWA Team. The team continues to grow, learn, and scan the horizon for new issues that might be important to state drinking water programs. I am looking forward to working with Ron Falco and the rest of the ASDWA Board in 2024 and riding out the perfect storm – again!

Alan Roberson, P.E.

ASDWA Executive Director