Ensuring safe drinking water for all
As a community member dedicated to water safety, I respectfully call for collaborative action to strengthen protections for our island’s water systems.
This past October was designated by the Cybersecurity Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) as Cybersecurity Awareness Month, a timely moment to address vulnerabilities. As a follow-up to that designation, this November has been officially designated as “Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience” Month.
The agency’s annual effort focused on outreach, education and stakeholder engagement of government, infrastructure owners and operators and the community about the role critical infrastructure plays in the nation’s security and why it is important to build essential infrastructure security and resilience.
So, I am grateful that Gov. Leon Guerrero and Lt. Gov. Tenorio last month issued a Cybersecurity Awareness Proclamation and informed us that Guam’s Homeland Security is developing a broader cybersecurity plan led by Ester Aguigui.
Likewise, Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes and Sen. Jesse Lujan led the effort to introduce a resolution (Resolution 37-237) recognizing Cyber Security Month and calling for developing a detailed action plan.
Continuing with her leadership on this issue, Vice-Speaker Muna Barnes also introduced Bill 37-190, calling for establishing the Marianas Cyber Security Working Group to meet monthly and form an islandwide collaborative approach to this issue.
CISA has designated 16 community areas considered critical infrastructure; water and water treatment systems and commercial water providers are part of this infrastructure. While utilities like Guam Waterworks strive to deliver clean supplies, even the most advanced technologies still need holistic security. As we’ve seen after disasters like typhoons, disruption of any links in the supply chain jeopardizes public health. Likewise, infiltration of control systems could intentionally sicken large numbers if cyber defenses are inadequate.
Smaller operators also face threats, from tampering with storage tanks to exploitation of cash-strapped budgets. Yet local mom-and-pop water filtration stations like Rainman serve vital roles, especially for workers and families further away from town. All residents deserve reassurance, no matter their source.
The need for mandatory, randomized testing for imported drinking water is equally concerning. We must recognize potential hazards with supplies arriving via complex global networks. Even accidental contamination overseas endangers lives here. Rigorous, science-based screening is a basic necessity and precaution and should not be optional.
By convening leaders from EPA, GWA, WERI GHS and NGOs like the Micronesian Climate Change Alliance, the private sector and the military, we can devise comprehensive strategies rooted in risk management. Information sharing, coordinated incident response, and empowering disadvantaged areas through training or subsidized upgrades would realize more equitable protection for every consumer.
As witnessed after this past Typhoon Mawar, resilience demands a whole-of-island approach. I urge policymakers to prioritize establishing formal channels for constructive cooperation across sectors and jurisdictions.
While efforts to ensure safety are ongoing, one area warrants strengthened oversight. As an island dependent on imported resources, we must recognize risks from international water shipments with mandatory, randomized testing by certified independent laboratories at the origin and upon arrival. More than merely trusting self-reported results is required.
To safeguard public health, we must establish nationwide standards and protocols for rigorously screening all foreign drinking water imports. Compliance testing should target a wide scope of potential contaminants in line with the latest scientific knowledge and threats. Resources for adequate border inspections and data sharing are also needed to facilitate swift response if issues are detected upstream in the supply chain.
Citizens rightly expect that protecting this life-sustaining resource will remain a top priority, regardless of source. Formalizing accountability through compliance enforcement measures gives consumers confidence that the industry and authorities are doing everything possible to validate safety. Ongoing review further ensures our testing and safety net evolves in lockstep with new risks and advances.
Only through a proactive commitment to unannounced, randomized verification wherever it is produced can leaders fulfill their duty to make safe drinking water accessible to all without exception. I urge policymakers to establish a gold-standard regulatory framework for water imports quickly.
This month, CISA is asking all of us to "resolve to be resilient" by preparing and investing in resilience today so that the Island can recover quickly in the event of an incident tomorrow. We can only guarantee that this critical resource remains secure through unity and vigilance.
Here as some suggestions for ensuring rigorous and effective testing of imported drinking water:
Develop nationally recognized testing standards and procedures based on organizations like USEPA and WHO guidelines. This provides consistency.
Require frequent, random compliance testing by certified independent laboratories at origin before shipping and upon arrival. Avoid reliance on self-reporting.
Test for a broad range of potential contaminants, including chemicals, pathogens, radioactive materials, etc., considering diverse threats. Update test panels as risks evolve.
Support testing through adequate funding and staffing at ports/borders to prevent bottlenecks or lapses in the screening process.
Share water quality data in real-time with oversight agencies to enable rapid tracing of any issues upstream.
Enforce accountability through penalties or import bans for suppliers showing past non-compliance. Provide incentives for investment in high-quality sources.
Implement supply chain security, including tamper-proof containers and monitoring devices to validate legitimate shipments and detect diversions.
Mandate transparent public reporting of all test results to build confidence while encouraging continuous safety improvements.
Continuously re-evaluate standards and processes with changing best practices to keep protections state-of-the-art. Involve independent experts.
Rigorous standards, unannounced inspections, accountability measures, and adaptation to new risks can maximize testing effectiveness.
Deepak Dewan is the CEO of Ready H20 in Harmon and a member of the recently formed ad hoc group Guam Safe Drinking Water Alliance.