TRENTON, NJ - Legislation sponsored by state Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman (R-16) to improve the safety of the state’s drinking water and hold public water systems accountable for making improvements has cleared the Senate Environment and Energy Committee.

The bill would require all public water systems to establish a cyber-security program, as well as an asset management plan designed to inspect, maintain, and repair water infrastructure. The bill would establish specific safety standards for testing fire hydrants.

“Our legislative task force recently learned that nearly two dozen school districts in our state have elevated levels of lead,” Bateman said. “Protecting our drinking water from contaminants must be a top priority. All public water systems must be held accountable for making water infrastructure inspections and improvements. We simply cannot take chances when it comes to protecting the health and safety of our residents.”

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Bateman's proposal would give all public water systems one year to implement a plan designed to ensure its infrastructure consistent with industry standard best practices. The plan must include a water supply and treatment program designed to inspect, maintain, repair, renew, and upgrade wells, intakes, pumps, and treatment facilities in accordance with all federal and State regulations, industry standards, and any mitigation plan that may be required pursuant to the bill.

Additionally, the bill would require each public water system to dedicate funds on an annual basis to identify address high-priority infrastructure projects and submit an annual report to the NJ DEP identifying the improvements to be made in the coming year, as well as their cost. The report would also include those completed in the previous year.

Currently, the cybersecurity requirements and standards for testing fire hydrants outlined in the bill only apply to public water systems that are regulated by the Board of Public Utilities; the bill would extend those requirements to all public water systems.

Under the bill, a public water system would have 120 days following enactment to develop a cybersecurity program in accordance with requirements established by BPU. As part of the program, the public water system must conduct regular risk assessments, maintain situational awareness of cyber threats and vulnerabilities to the public water system, and create and exercise incident response and recovery plans.

“A cyber-attack could deprive countless families of water in minutes,” Bateman said. “Cyber-attacks on public utilities have already happened in other parts of the country. We cannot let it happen in New Jersey. Requiring all companies to develop an action plan to identify vulnerabilities and respond to an attack if it happens will ensure all utilities are equipped to address 21st century threats.