U.S. Representatives Zach Nunn (IA-03) and Don Davis (NC-01) introduced bipartisan legislation today to help rural communities fortify against cyber attacks that could shut off the water supply for Iowans, businesses, and farms. The Cybersecurity for Rural Water Systems Act of 2023 updates and expands the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Circuit Rider Program to include robust cyber training and technical expertise for rural water systems.
“The reality is that Iowa’s water supply could be devastated by a single cyber attack right now, so improving the cybersecurity of our water systems must be a top priority,” said Rep. Nunn. “Unfortunately, the changes that are needed to keep our water supply safe are often cost prohibitive for smaller rural communities. This bipartisan bill will provide critical resources and funding to prevent cyber attacks so that all Iowans can rest easy at night knowing our water supply is safe.”
According to the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), 80% of the country is served by 153,000 public drinking water systems and 16,000 publicly owned wastewater systems. In 2021, water treatment systems in California and Florida were compromised when hackers attempted to poison the water systems that had insufficient cybersecurity measures. Currently, only 20% of water systems have even basic levels of cyber protection.
The USDA and the National Rural Water Association (NRWA) started the Circuit Rider Program in 1980 to provide training and technical assistance for rural water systems; however, currently, less than 150 circuit riders service 49 state rural water associations, including Puerto Rico, with only 4 circuit riders servicing Iowa. Moreover, the circuit riders are not equipped to provide cybersecurity-specific support to help small water and wastewater organizations bolster their defenses.
“Our agricultural communities and rural water systems are critical to our national defense, and I’m glad to introduce this essential bipartisan legislation that delivers security for rural America,” said Rep. Davis. “We must ensure our water systems rural communities and farmers rely on have the necessary protections to successfully guard against cyber attacks.”
The Cybersecurity for Rural Water Systems Act of 2023 directs the USDA to expand the Circuit Rider Program to provide technical cybersecurity assistance and authorizes funding to hire an additional 50 cybersecurity circuit riders. These experts will be able to rapidly assess the cybersecurity of small water utilities, develop protocols to enhance cyber defenses, and provide assistance to supplement inadequate cyber protection plans.
“The Cybersecurity for Rural Water Systems Act of 2023 will directly assist rural utilities that lack the financial resources and in-house expertise to defend themselves from cyber threats,” said National Rural Water Assocation CEO Matthew Holmes. “The bill will provide a cadre of “Circuit Rider” cybersecurity specialists to help rural water systems protect the public health of the residents they serve. NRWA is grateful for Reps. Davis and Nunn’s vision to lead this very important legislation which will result in a more resilient, prepared, and secure water sector.”
The full text of the bill can be read here.