The NCSL Blog

07

By Doug Farquhar

NCSL has teamed up with the Public Health Law Network, Eastern Region out of the University of Maryland Carey School of Law to produce a list of state laws related to the disclosure of public water supplies.

Person drinking glass of waterThe Statutes and Penalties for Disclosure of Public Water Supply tracks every state statute that exempts security information related to drinking water systems from public disclosure requirements from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Although the wording of each state statute varies greatly, the relevant statute usually provides that vulnerability assessments are not considered a public record that is required to be disclosed under the state's FOIA law.

This collaborative effort began as a request from state legislators interested in amending their public water disclosure laws. NCSL contacted the PHLN Eastern Region to identify current state statutes and assist with this request. Students from the Public Health Law Clinic assisted with the research.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires states to have "a systematic program for conducting sanitary surveys of public water systems in the state, with priority given to sanitary surveys of public water systems not in compliance with state primary drinking water regulations." (40 CFR 142.10 (b)(2)). A sanitary survey contains many elements that are related to water system security and could include items of concern that are found in a vulnerability assessment.

To determine whether a state law exempts a sanitary survey from public disclosure, the statute must either:

  • Afford protection to the entire sanitary survey;
  • Afford protection only to security-related information that can be severed from the survey report in order to maintain public access to essential water quality information found in the rest of the report; or
  • Provide no exemption for sanitary surveys.

Although it is likely that information under a federal law exemption is safe from having to be disclosed under a state open records law, a specific exemption for water system security information provides another layer of protection.

This website will assist state legislators and policy makers in identifying the various state public water disclosure statutes and language used in legislation.

NCSL is the national organization of the nation’s 50 state legislatures. Each year it receives between 20,000 to 30,000 requests from state legislatures on policy topics, including water safety and environmental health. The Network for Public Health Law provides technical legal assistance to state and local public health officials, legislators, attorneys, and organizations on wide-ranging issues of public health. NCSL and the Network intend to further collaborate to assist with requests from legislators and policy makers and identify state environmental statutes.

Doug Farquhar directs the Environmental Health Program at NCSL. Email Doug.

 

 

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This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.